Israel is demanding proof that its missing soldiers in Lebanon are alive, before it engages in negotiations for their release.
Indirect negotiations with the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah, or Party of God, would likely take place with the help of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the Labor Party Central Committee on Tuesday night.
“As long as we don’t know who is alive and who isn’t, we will discuss no other details,” he stressed. “When the Red Cross comes to us — and it will do so only when it has a partner for negotiations — we will first demand a sign of life from those to be exchanged by the other side.”
In Geneva, Red Cross spokeswoman Marjorie Martin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “We are not involved in any contacts concerning the hostages, and the ICRC has not organized a special group to deal with this issue.”
“If the affair is solved and an agreement is reached by the parties involved, we will be ready to deal with the exchange itself,” she said.
Rabin noted that, during the past seven years, there had been no signs of life from Zechariya Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz or Samir Abed.
Israel is more hopeful about obtaining the release of Rahamim Alsheikh and Yossi Fink, captured three years ago and not heard from since.
The defense minister said some time ago that Israel would not participate in any negotiations unless it was certain that the Israeli prisoners were indeed alive and that Israel was not being misled by their captors.
U.N. OFFICIAL’S DEMAND DENOUNCED
Rabin stressed that the Israel Defense Force’s abduction of Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid on July 28 had shaken the world into making an attempt to release the hostages.
“Had we not done what we did, the world would not have woken up, and there would have been no chance of bringing the abducted soldiers and the Western citizens home,” he said.
On Tuesday, United Nations Undersecretary-General Marrack Goulding met with Rabin and reportedly urged Israel to release Obeid immediately, saying his capture was a provocation.
Rabin reportedly rejected the plea out of hand.
In New York, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations criticized Goulding on Wednesday for making such a request.
Seymour Reich said he was “appalled” by Goulding’s proposal, which he said “represents nothing less than the cowardly and abject appeasement of terrorist demands.”
He said the unqualified return of Obeid, without the release of Western hostages in return, would only encourage further kidnappings and acts of violence.
Goulding, he said, “has disqualified himself from any usefulness as a mediator in the region.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater was asked whether the United States would back Goulding’s appeal. “We don’t dictate to Israel,” Fitzwater responded.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Rabin has complained to Foreign Minister Moshe Arens that his deputy minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, made a point of meeting separately with Goulding on Tuesday.
At present, the prime minister, vice premier, foreign minister and defense minister are the only officials authorized to participate in meetings related to the hostage affair.
Netanyahu reacted angrily by saying his meeting with Goulding had been arranged awhile ago, to discuss UNIFIL and peacekeeping issues in southern Lebanon.
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.