TEL AVIV (Nov. 19)
Israeli officials emphasized Tuesday that Israel was not a party to any deal for the release of Western hostages held by Islamic fundamentalists in Lebanon and there would be no quid pro quo.
While it welcomed the freeing of American Thomas Sutherland and Briton Terry Waite, the Israeli officials emphasized that the world must not expect Israel to reciprocate by releasing its Shi’ite Moslem prisoners, especially the religious leader Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid.
That was made clear to visiting Republican Party and Bush administration officials by Foreign Minister David Levy on Tuesday. It was reiterated in foreign radio and television interviews by Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Such a move was not included in negotiations for freeing of Sutherland and Waite, they stressed.
Levy and Netanyahu reinforced the position set down by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir at a Los Angeles news conference Monday.
Shamir, on a 10-day speaking tour of the United States, which culminates in a meeting with President Bush in Washington on Friday, stated flatly that Israel would release no more Arab prisoners until it has detailed information about its own missing service personnel in Lebanon.
Specifically, Israel wants details of the fate of three soldiers captured by the Syrians during the Lebanon war nearly 10 years ago and about air force navigator Ron Arad, the only man missing in action who may still be alive.
Israel released 66 Moslem prisoners earlier this year upon receiving reliable information that two of its MIAs, Yossi Fink and Rahamim Alsheikh, were dead. They had been captured by the Syrians, who turned them over to a terrorist organization.
Israel wants their bodies returned. So far it has gotten back only the body of Sgt. Samir Assad, a member of the Israel Defense Force.
Three other MIAs believed dead are Yehuda Katz, Zecharia Baumel and Zvi Feldman. Israel awaits confirmation and will insist that their bodies be returned before it agrees to release any more Shi’ites.
It is believed to be saving Obeid for the last. He would be exchanged for Arad, the only MIA presumed to be alive.
Meanwhile, Uri Lubrani, an Israeli diplomat who has headed many hostage exchange negotiations, is said to be awaiting a call to continue discussions about the missing Israelis.
Yohanan Bein, a senior Foreign Ministry official who deals with the hostage issue, said Monday night he was not surprised by the releases of Sutherland and Waite.
They indicate an overall hostage-prisoner release deal engineered by U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, Bein said.
“We knew it was coming. Today’s step can be described as one wheel in the machine. I hope the entire deal is completed by the end of December, when (Perez) de Cuellar completes his tenure at the United Nations,” Bein said.
He added that as far as Israel is concerned, the next move is up to the Islamic extremist Hezbollah.
“They know exactly what we are waiting for,” he said.
Meanwhile, there was no reaction here to Waite’s remark, apparently aimed at Israel after his release Monday in Damascus, that he had experienced “nightly bombardments while chained to a wall.”
He demanded also that the “innocent hostages of south Lebanon” be released immediately, an apparent reference to Israeli detainees in the southern Lebanon security zone.