TEL AVIV (Aug. 28)
Israel has charged that groups in Lebanon are waging a disinformation propaganda campaign with respect to the seven Israeli servicemen missing in action and warned the public to be wary of the welter of conflicting reports put out by Lebanese and Palestinian sources.
The claims have proliferated in recent weeks, as international negotiations accelerated for an exchange of Western hostages for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
But Israeli officials stressed that no faith should be placed in any of the statements, whether optimistic or pessimistic. Some say all or most of the missing are dead. According to others, three or four of the seven are alive.
The latest report in Beirut newspapers Wednesday quotes a senior official of the Shi’ite militia Amal as saying that Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad, shot down over Lebanon in 1986, has been held in Teheran for the past few months by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Amal claims it took Arad prisoner after he bailed out of a Phantom jet hit during an Israeli bombing raid over Lebanon five years ago, and later “sold” him to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for a half-million dollars.
The Amal source was also quoted as saying the organization holds the remains of two dead Israelis. But it refused to supply further details.
Amal’s leader, Lebanese Minister of State Nabih Berri, says the Israelis must release 28 Shi’ite women prisoners before Amal allows the International Red Cross to visit Israeli captives or inspect the bodies of the dead.
Israel has made it an unshakable condition that it must have authentic information about the condition of the missing men before it will even consider a prisoner-for-hostage exchange.
Amal’s rival, Hezbollah, claimed it discussed the exchange issue Tuesday with U.N. officials in Lebanon. U.N. sources denied that subject came up in talks with Hezbollah.
The pro-Iranian Shi’ite fundamentalist group claims it holds two missing Israel Defense Force soldiers but is vague as to whether they are alive or dead.
The radical Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine says it has the body of one man.