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Fate of Israeli in Kashmir Unclear, Might Be Pawn in Separatists’ Quest

The fate of an Israeli tourist held prisoner by Kashmiri rebels in northern India remained uncertain Monday as the body of one of his companions killed last week was flown home.

While Erez Cohen of Ramat Efal near Tel Aviv was buried Monday, Yair Yitzhaki, a 22-year-old resident of the Old City in Jerusalem, appeared to be a bargaining chip of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Moslem extremists who want Kashmir province separated from India.

He and Cohen were among seven Israelis and a Dutch woman kidnapped June 26 while vacationing on a houseboat on Lake Dal, near Srinagar, the Kashmiri capital.

Cohen was killed in a gun battle in which three other Israelis were wounded but escaped.

Yitzhaki, held separately, was allowed to speak to the media over the weekend and to inform his family that his release was imminent. But that no longer seemed to be the case Monday.

His captors said they were prepared to hand him over, but only to a U.N. representative, “if the Indian government wishes to request it.”

The Kashmiris said they want U.N. intercession because they do not trust the Indians. The Indians accused the separatists of a propaganda ploy.

Outside observers believe the Liberation Front is using its Israeli prisoner to force the New Delhi government to invite the United Nations into the scenically beautiful but deadly province, where police say more than 3,200 people have died since the anti-India uprising began in January 1990.

Moshe Yegar, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for Asian and African affairs, flew to New Delhi on Sunday to try to arrange Yitzhaki’s release and see the wounded.

Yegar said he was assured that the three wounded men are in good condition at a military hospital in Srinagar and should be able to fly home in about a week.

Cohen’s body, flown from Bombay, was accompanied by the three uninjured members of the vacation party — Ayala Berman, a Dutch woman not immediately identified and Haggai Caspi of Ramat Efal.

The Kashmiri separatists are considered dangerous. On Monday they extended for 24 hours the deadline for killing a captured Indian oil executive and a badly wounded Swedish hostage.

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