Relatives of Lebanon Kidnap Victims Visit N.Y. As Release Efforts Intensify

The agony of losing his brother in the Yom Kippur War is back for Chaim Avraham.

His son, Benny, was one of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped in Lebanon in October, 2000. “It’s the same,” he said, turning away to stifle tears.

Avraham joined the parents of the other missing soldiers — Adi Avitan and Omar Souad were kidnapped along with Avraham and the wife and son of Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli businessman kidnapped abroad by Hezbollah one week later, to meet New York Gov. George Pataki in New York on July 11. The families pressed Pataki to do what he can to urge Iran, Syria and Lebanon, Hezbollah’s international supporters, to get the captives released.

Pataki will deliver a letter from the families to the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and the presidents of Iran, Syria and Lebanon, which fund or permit Hezbollah activity within their borders.

The delivery of the letter came amid increased efforts to secure the release of the four captives.

During the group’s lobbying visit, Hezbollah reportedly offered to free Tannenbaum in exchange for the release of 100 Palestinian prisoners. However, Israeli Cabinet minister Dan Naveh said the report could not be confirmed.

The letter Pataki is distributing, which is signed by the victims’ families, reads, “As family members of Israeli MIAs, we are appealing to you from the depths of our hearts: Please do all you can to return our children.

“It is commonly said that all pain eases over time. We are living testimony to the fact that the greatest griefs do not grow lighter with the years; indeed, the loss of our children hollows a deeper and deeper hole inside us every day.”

The letter adds that even “if they are no longer living, we yearn to have their remains brought home. By burying our dead, we can at least bring closure to our loss.”

The Israeli government, Jewish organizations and the victims’ families have raised the issue of Hezbollah’s kidnappings — the whereabouts of other prisoners, including Ron Arad, an Israeli airman shot down over Lebanon in 1986, are still unknown — with Congress, U.N. secretaries-general and heads of state for years.

Naveh shuttled the victim’s group between New York and Washington last week, where they met with members of Congress and the State Department.

Speaking July 11 in the governor’s press room, Ori Tannenbaum warned that his father’s kidnapping sets a “dangerous precedent.” Elhanan Tannenbaum was the first foreign national kidnapped on Western soil, he said, and if the world is silent, he is likely not to be the last.

Tannenbaum is believed to be alive, according to Naveh. The fate of the others is less certain.

During the news conference, the families effusively clasped hands and cheeks and took the kisses of sympathetic observers.

After the conference, Avraham offered a laminated copy of a Hebrew prayer for the missing to a reporter, which Avraham signed. As if to emphasize his personal connection to terror, he then underlined his name.

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