Efforts Will Continue to Free Israelis, Diplomats Say After Germans Released

Israeli officials have welcomed international assurances that the release of two German hostages in Lebanon has not closed the book on efforts to free Israelis who may still be in the hands of Shi’ite militants there.

U.N. hostage negotiator Giandomenico Picco made clear in Beirut that he did not consider the freeing of German relief workers Heinrich Struebig and Thomas Kemptner on Wednesday to be the end of the hostage saga.

They were the last of nearly 100 American and European hostages released in recent years by various Arab and Moslem terrorist groups. But Israel is still in the dark about the whereabouts and fate of six of its service personnel missing in Lebanon.

The only one realistically assumed to be alive is air force navigator Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. His family claims to have “reliable information” that he is a prisoner in Iran.

“The file is not closed,” Picco said. “We’ve always said the issue is that of the Western hostages as well as the Lebanese held by Israel and by other Lebanese and the missing Israelis.”

Arad’s wife, Tami, said she was “very glad” the German hostages were set free. “But I want the free world not to forget Ron and that every-body remember he is still over there.”

ISRAEL DEMANDS RELEASE OR INFORMATION

Uri Lubrani, Israel’s top hostage negotiator, said Israel demands the release of its imprisoned servicemen or hard information about their fate.

While he praised Picco’s efforts to date, Lubrani stressed that Israel could not depend solely on outside help in freeing its servicemen, although such help was useful.

“We are left alone in the arena. This wasn’t unexpected, but from our perspective we will not be satisfied until all of our missing servicemen are returned home,” Lubrani said, apparently meaning dead or alive.

“We will continue to make every effort and won’t rest until this matter is concluded,” he said.

German authorities insisted there was no quid pro quo for Struebig, 51 and Kemptner, 31 who returned to Germany Wednesday after being held prisoner for three years, mostly in chains.

But Lebanon, Iran and even Syria stand to benefit from the release and so may two Arab terrorists serving time in German prisons.

German politicians praised Iran’s and Syria’s roles in freeing the hostages.

Many observers in Germany believe the release of the hostages was part of an Iranian effort to break its diplomatic isolation and renew close economic contacts with Germany, and through Germany, with the West in general.

Soon after Struebig and Kemptner were freed, Germany announced that the European community will renew its economic assistance to Lebanon. In addition, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said high ranking Iranian officials will be received here soon for talks on political and economic cooperation.

Kinkel told reporters Tuesday that Germany did not submit to blackmail to obtain their release and made no deals with their kidnappers. He denied specifically that ransom was paid or promises made to free the brothers Mohammad and Abbas Hamadi.

Mohammad Hamadi is serving a life sentence for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner and the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem. He was arrested, tried and convicted in Germany after Bonn rejected a U.S. extradition request.

Abbas Hamadi is serving 13 years for kidnapping two Germans in an unsuccessful ploy to free his brother. They were subsequently released.

Struebig and Kemptner were held by followers of Abdel Hadi Hamadi, security chief of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, who wanted to swap them for his brothers. But Bonn refused.

Nevertheless, the brothers can soon expect improved conditions in prison and the grant of their long-standing request to be held in the same facility, German officials told reporters Wednesday. They are currently incarcerated in separate prisons.

(JTA correspondent David Kantor in Bonn contributed to this report.)

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