New leads on missing Israelis?


JERUSALEM, April 23 (JTA) — Israel plans to investigate a newspaper report that an Arab official is willing to sell information about the burial places of three Israeli soldiers missing in action in Lebanon since 1982.

Just the same, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh warned that previous claims of information about Israeli MIAs proved fruitless and that many people are willing to try to exploit the tragedy for money.

Sneh was responding to a report last Friday in the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper, which quoted an Arab source as saying the remains of Zachariah Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz are buried in a neighboring Arab country.

One of the sources for the report was a Palestinian official, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The three MIAs disappeared June 11, 1982, in the battle of Sultan Yakoub at the beginning of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

The newspaper report came two days after Israel freed 13 Lebanese nationals who had been held without trial as bargaining chips for the return of Israeli MIAs. The 13 were released following a ruling by the Supreme Court that Israel could not hold detainees indefinitely if they do not present a security threat.

While abiding by the court’s decision, Israel’s Security Cabinet

decided to initiate legislation that would give the government the legal right to hold detainees it deemed “illegal fighters” as bargaining chips.

The decision to pursue such legislation was apparently aimed at keeping two Shi’ite fundamentalist leaders, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, behind bars.

Families of Israeli MIAs criticized the high court’s ruling, saying it was depriving the Israeli defense establishment of a key tool in the attempt to obtain information about the missing servicemen and to secure their release.

Obeid and Dirani have been held by Israel as bargaining chips for the return of Israeli airman navigator Ron Arad, who bailed out of his fighter plane over Lebanon in 1986 and is believed to have been held by pro-Iranian troops there.

Israel says Dirani and Obeid, who were both kidnapped from Lebanon in Israeli commando raids, had direct links to Arad.

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