Report Says Israeli Pilot is Alive and Will Be Visited by the Red Cross

Ron Arad, an Israeli air force pilot held hostage in Lebanon for nearly six years, is alive and will be visited shortly by the International Red Cross, according to a news report Thursday from Beirut.

The news source, considered reliable, said the Lebanese authorities were guaranteed that Arad was in good health.

But the report was promptly discounted in Jerusalem, where a Defense Ministry spokesman said Israel had “received no new information” about Arad or the six other Israel Defense Force personnel missing in action and believed to be captives in Lebanon.

Well-informed sources quoted by a French news agency said no information was available about the other six MIAs and that they were presumed dead.

Red Cross spokesman Gabriel De Montmolin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here that the humanitarian organization would divulge no information about Arad or any other hostage until its representatives visit the captives and make positive identification.

All contacts concerning hostages are secret, De Montmolin said.

Arad was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and taken prisoner by Amal, the mainstream Shi’ite militia. He is believed to have been subsequently transferred to the custody of a radical group within Amal.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz will visit his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Velayati, at the end of the month, in connection with a hostage exchange, the Swiss Telegraphic Agency reported Thursday.

Iran has influence with extremist Shi’ite groups in Lebanon said to be holding Western hostages.

Unofficial sources in Jerusalem said Israel was keeping a close watch on consultations over the hostages currently going on in Teheran between Iranian government leaders and Lebanese Shi’ites.

Israel has demanded complete information on the condition and whereabouts of its MIAs in Lebanon as a precondition for any deal or preliminary “gesture” involving a hostage exchange.

U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who has been in the forefront of negotiations for a prisoner exchange, was expected to return to Geneva on Saturday from a vacation in Portugal.

(JTA correspondent David Landau in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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