TEL AVIV (Nov. 3)
Longtime missing Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad is alive and being held in Syria, a senior intelligence official of the Palestine Liberation Organization contends.
The official also says that the bodies of three Israel Defense Force soldiers missing since the 1982 Sultan Yacub battle of the Lebanon War are buried in a Damascus cemetery.
Sheffi Gabai, Arab affairs reporter for Ma’ariv, wrote in the Israeli daily’s Wednesday edition that he was given the information by Col. Nezair Amar, head of military intelligence for the mainstream Fatah wing of the PLO.
Amar, who is a member of the PLO delegation to the autonomy implementation talks at Taba, gave the information during an interview at the Sinai meeting place this week.
According to Gabai, Amar said he had investigated the reports about Arad’s fate and “can say with complete certainty that the Israeli air force navigator is alive and held in Syria.”
He confirmed the information that Arad had been captured by forces of the Lebanese Shi’ite Amal militia during the Lebanon War and handed over to the pro-Iranian Hezbollah group. He said Hezbollah then handed Arad over to the Syrians.
Arad is the only one of seven Israel Defense Force personnel captured in Lebanon presumed to be alive. He was captured in Lebanon in 1986.
Over the years it has been reported that Arad was being held in Lebanon and Iran. Gabai quoted Amar as saying, “The Syrians tell journalists today that (Arad) is in the hands of the Iranians. But I don’t think that is possible without their agreement.”
CAN SAY IT ‘WITH COMPLETE CERTAINTY’
He quoted Amar as saying the three Israeli soldiers wounded and captured during the Sultan Yacub battle “were collected by members of the A-Saiqa Palestinian unit of the Syrian army” and “taken off to Damascus,” apparently for some future bargaining process with Israel.
“But I later found that they had died of their wounds,” the PLO official told Gabai.
Gabai said Amar was the chief assistant to the late Salah Khalaf, the PLO official who was assassinated by his own bodyguard.
Amar told the Israeli journalist that he started his investigations after a visit to Tunis by Yona Baumel, father of Zachariya Baumel, one of the three missing IDF soldiers, who had come to seek news of his son.
“I believe the information I received,” Amar said.
But Yona Baumel claims that information he has obtained in years of investigations is at variance with the Amar report.
Ron Arad’s wife, Tami, reacted to the Ma’ariv report by saying this latest information appears to corroborate that Damascus is the address for obtaining information to gain the release of her missing husband.
She said more should be done to press the Syrians for information.
Israeli officials have been wary of reports that various groups hold missing Israeli soldiers or their bodies.
In one prisoner exchange, terrorists returned four bodies, three of which were found to be those of Arabs.