The Lebanese government has reason to believe that missing Israeli air force navigator Ron Arad is still alive, Israeli officials have been told.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres announced the news Monday at a briefing in New York with members of the Jewish press. And further details were provided here Tuesday by Uri Lubrani, co-chairman of the Israeli team conducting peace talks with Lebanon.
Lubrani, who served last year as Israel’s chief hostage negotiator, told reporters that Israel had asked the Lebanese delegation to do whatever it could on a humanitarian basis to find out about the fate of Arad, whose airplane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.
As a result, he said, the Israeli team had “received a reply that the Lebanese government has reason to believe that navigator Arad is alive.”
He said the Lebanese delegation had assured the Israelis that it “will do whatever it can to pursue the matter to the best of its ability.”
Asked by reporters if the Israelis had received any information about Arad’s whereabouts, Lubrani said, “I don’t think they have any knowledge of who is holding him.”
When asked a similar question in New York on Monday, Foreign Minister Peres said that “the Syrians deny they are connected in any way with the fate of Ron Arad.”
He later added: “I would see an Iranian finger in the story, but I don’t have evidence to support it.”
Peres indicated he would raise the Arad case on Wednesday in a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has pledged to do what he could to win the missing Israeli airman’s freedom.
Last year, Boutros-Ghali’s predecessor, Javier Perez de Cuellar, and a top aide, Giandomenico Picco, were involved in negotiations with Israel, Iran, Syria and Lebanon that resulted in the release of all American and British hostages in Lebanon.
Israel also received information about the fate of some of its soldiers missing in Lebanon, as well as some of the remains of those who allegedly died in captivity.
But there was no definitive word on the fate of Arad, who is thought to be the only Israeli with any likelihood of still being alive.
And since the last American hostage, Terry Anderson, was released, there has been no progress on the issue.
Israeli sources here say there is good reason to believe Arad is still alive. But they cautioned against placing too much stock in the latest Lebanese report, saying they did not know whether the government in Beirut had made a serious inquiry into the case.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.