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Israel challenges Russian claim that missing fighter pilot is dead

JERUSALEM, Oct. 28 (JTA) — Israel has taken issue with the Russian foreign minister’s claim that missing Israeli airman Ron Arad is dead. Arad bailed out of his fighter plane over Lebanon in 1986 and was believed to have been held by pro-Iranian troops in Lebanon. The last time any message was received that he was alive was in October 1987. Yevgeny Primakov did not explain why he believed Arad was dead, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the latest Israeli intelligence suggested that Arad was still alive. During his visit to Israel, Primakov said Russia wanted a more active role in the peace process. He also challenged Israel’s belief that Russia is involved in transferring nuclear technology to Iran. After meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Primakov urged Israel to implement the signed accords. He added that Russia would be the first country to recognize a Palestinian state. Primakov made an unscheduled stop in Damascus before heading back to Moscow, in order to convey Israeli ideas for restarting peace negotiations with Syria. Those talks have been suspended for more than a year. The Israeli message was believed to come in response to one Primakov brought with him to Israel from Damascus, where he held talks Saturday with Syrian President Hafez Assad. Primakov said the Syrian leader was interested in resuming discussions, but sources in Jerusalem said there was nothing new in the Syrian president’s message. During talks Sunday, Netanyahu and Primakov remained as far apart as ever over Moscow’s technological links with Iran. Israel maintains that Iran is trying to develop long-range ballistic missiles that could be armed with non-conventional warheads and fired at Israel. Speaking at a joint news conference with Primakov, Netanyahu said, “We do not agree on the facts,” and added that Iran has “taken out a contract on Israel.” For his part, the Russian foreign minister said planned sanctions approved by the U.S. Congress against Russian companies believed to be involved in the transfer of technology to Tehran were unjustified.

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