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Background Report the Kidnapping of Lebanese Jewish Leaders

April 3, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Four leaders of the Lebanese Jewish community were kidnapped in a series of abductions carried out by armed men in Beirut over the weekend. The Kidnappings have been confirmed by the Beirut police, but no group has publicly claimed responsibility nor have family members been contacted with ransom demands.

According to information obtained by the American Jewish Committee from its Paris office and from other reliable sources in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, the following is known about the kidnap victims and the circumstances of their abduction:

Dr. Elie Khallak, 59, a prominent physician, was kidnapped from his home in West Beirut on Friday night by armed men in uniform.

Haim Cohen, an elderly member of the community whose functions include distribution of kosher meat.

Elie Srour, 68, whose community functions include preparing the dead for burial.

Both were abducted near the synagogue in the Wadi Abu Jamil old Jewish quarter. They are not wealthy. They were also kidnapped during the Sabbath. Since Srour is Khallak’s father-in-law it is quite possible that he was visiting Khallak and they were kidnapped at the same time.


Isaac Sasson, the president of the community, was kidnapped by armed men on Sunday. He had been out of the country on a business trip and was dragged away by three armed men when he arrived at the airport in Moslem West Beirut. (This information is different from that in the Associated Press dispatch from Beirut of March 31, which says that he was dragged from his home in Wadi Abu Jamil.)

Sasson, 68, is director of the pharmaceutical department of Khalil Fattal & Fils, a major Lebanese trading company. Friends sought to warn him not to return to his home in West Beirut but to go directly to the relatively safer Christian section of the city, but his abducters, who obviously knew of his travel plans, intercepted him either immediately as he got off the plane or in the vicinity of the airport. Sasson suffers from diabetes.

Khallak and Sasson are well connected in Lebanese society. Khallak’s patients include prominent members of the various ethnic and religious communities. He has scrupulously stayed out of politics, and, in fact, the son of one of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leaders was treated by him. Sasson also has contacts among Moslim as well as Christian business circles.

The two led a Jewish delegation that met with President Amin Gemayel on August 23 last year to discuss the deteriorating situation of the dwindling Jewish community, which is now estimated at less than 100.

The Lebanese authorities and friends of Sasson and Khallak inquired about their whereabouts with the various armed militias, including the Amal, the main Shiite militia organization, but no trace of them was discovered.

This has led to speculation that the four Jewish men were abducted by persons connected with the Shiite fundamentalist group, Hezballah (the Party of God). This group is closely aligned with the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran and has been implicated in attacks upon American and other Western installations in Lebanon.

Yesterday, rumors were circulating that a fifth member of the Jewish community, Clement Dana, 80, had also been taken captive.


This well organized wave of kidnappings has filled the Jewish community with fear and has raised deep concern among Jewish communities around the world. It is to be noted that even during the height of the civil war, which broke out in 1975 and has continued intermittently ever since, the Jewish community as such was not targeted.

Most of the Jewish community has left because of the uncertain economic situation and the physical danger of living in a war zone. There are no special restrictions upon the community, which has been free to practice its religion and was protected by the authorities — to the extent that there was any functioning central authority.

In June 1967 some 6,000 Jews still lived in Lebanon, but because of the psychological, political and economic pressures generated by the Six Day war in the neighboring countries, the Lebanese Jewish community shrank to half by the end of the year. Additional emigration occurred during subsequent periods of turmoil.

By 1981 the community had declined to about 200 and it is believed that the community today is only a fraction of that number, with some estimates as low as several dozen. In many cases most family members have established residence abroad and only the breadwinner remains in Lebanon to continue his business or profession.


The first prominent Lebanese Jewish leader to be kidnapped was Albert Elia, the secretary-general of the community, who was dragged into a car as he was walking to his office in the synagogue on September 6, 1971. Subsequent investigations disclosed that the kidnappers had been working for Syrian intelligence. Elia died after having been tortured in the al-Mazeh prison outside of Damascus.

But there were no cases of Lebanese Jews being kidnapped by Lebanese elements until last year. On July 1, Raoul Sobhi Mizrahi, 54, an electrical engineer who ran an electrical supply company, was kidnapped by three armed gunmen from his apartment in West Beirut. There were no ransom demands. He was beaten to death and his body was discovered on July 3.

A group calling itself the “National Resistance Army — The Nation’s Liberation Faction” said it had killed Mizrahi “because he was an Israeli agent.” His family firmly denied this, but noted that the Amal Shiite militia had warned Mizrahi that his life was in danger if he maintained commercial ties with Israel.

On August 15, three armed gunmen kidnapped Salim Jammous, who had been secretary-general of the Jewish community, from his car near the main Beirut synagogue in the Wadi Abu Jamil quarter. No group claimed responsibility and it is possible that he is still being kept captive. The AJC has been in contact with the U.S. government and other diplomatic and human rights channels in efforts to locate and obtain the release of the kidnapped Lebanese Jewish leaders.

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