Israel has declined to comment on a British press report that two Israel Defense Force soldiers taken prisoner by Hezbollah three years ago died shortly after their capture.
The Sunday Times of London said Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, the Hezbollah guerrilla leader abducted by Israeli commandos from his home in Lebanon on July 28, told his interrogators the soldiers were dead.
Israel has offered to exchange Obeid for Israeli soldiers and Western hostages held captive by the pro-Iranian Hezbollah or by other groups in Lebanon.
But according to the Times, which quoted sources in Jerusalem, Obeid said one of the Israeli soldiers died of wounds minutes after being ambushed and the other died “hours later.”
Brig. Gen. Ephraim Lapid, a military spokesman, said it was IDF policy not to react to or comment on press reports.
Concerning the two soldiers, Yosef Fink and Rahamim Alsheich, believed held by Hezbollah, Lapid said, “We regard them as alive until proven otherwise.”
Interviewed on the Army Radio Station Sunday morning, Lapid observed that the issue of prisoners and those missing in action is a very sensitive one for Israelis and the IDF.
“We occasionally hear various reports, some of which are part of a psychological war against us.
“We consider the prisoners and MIAs to be alive until it is authoritatively proven otherwise,” Lapid said.
He added, “Authoritatively does not mean through British or any other media, but through the Red Cross.”
The Alsheich family in Rosh Ha’ayin said they were told by the IDF not to be discouraged or misled by false reports and disinformation deliberately spread by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
The London newspaper said the third missing Israeli, air force navigator Ron Arad, is believed to be alive and in the hands of a Lebanese militia with closer ties to Syria than to Iran.
The report quoted Arab sources as saying the photograph showing Israeli soldiers three days after the ambush lying in bed being fed intravenously was fake.
“Both were already dead when the photograph was taken,” the sources were quoted as saying.
Lapid said he did not think publication of the report would sabotage negotiations for the release of hostages.
But according to the Times, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir tried to conceal the deaths of the two Israeli soldiers from the Bush administration “for fear that Washington will put heavy pressure on him to free Obeid in exchange for American and other Western hostages in Beirut.”
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.