Defense Minister Ariel Sharon has asked the Syrian government for information about eight Israeli soldiers kidnapped from a forward observation post on the central front in Lebanon Saturday. He warned the Syrians of grave consequences if the soldiers were harmed.
Sharon’s message was forwarded to Damascus through Morris Draper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, deputy to U.S. special envoy Philip Habib, who is presently in Beirut. The Israeli army asked the International Red Cross yesterday to help trace the soldiers. It is not clear whether they are being held by the Syrians or by elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization which have taken shelter behind Syrian lines in Lebanon. According to Israel, Syria has not responded to demands that the soldiers be freed.
A military spokesman said an army patrol was sent to the observation post north of the Beirut-Damascus highway, after contact was lost with the soldiers there. A search of the area turned up traces of food, some military equipment, a steel helmet and a radio transmitter. Tracks of the Israelis and of others, apparently their captors, were found leading toward Syrian-held territory.
But there were no spent cartridges, leading the army to wonder how the soldiers could have been taken without a fight. Damascus radio reported yesterday that three Israeli soldiers were killed in a clash with Syrian forces near Hadet el Jebbe village 35 miles northeast of Beirut Saturday. The observation post was near the Lebanese village of Bahamdoun.
Some Israeli sources suggested today that the missing soldiers may have been surprised by the enemy while eating. Because of the easing of tension in the area they may have failed to post a guard, the sources said.
The army noted today that Israel holds 296 Syrian prisoners of war including 24 officers up to the rank of colonel and eight Syrian airforce pilots. Their names have been given to Syria through the International Red Cross.
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.