January 26, 2001
TITLE: Al-Hayat: Germany Renewing Mediation to Gain Release of Kidnapped IDF Soldiers
BY: Daniel Sobelman
Ha'aretz Correspodent and Agencies
The London-based Arabic newspaper Al Hayat reported yesterday that significant progress has been made in the contacts between Israel and Hezbollah aimed at reaching a deal to release the three Israel Defense Forces soldiers who were abducted by the organization at Har Dov near the Lebanese border last October.
The negotiations over the release of the soldiers and Colonel (Res.) Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli citizen kidnapped by Hezbollah, are being held on several different tracks. The main one is apparently being brokered by the German government.
The major stumbling block so far has been Hezbollah's refusal to give Israel information backing up the organization's claim that the three soldiers are still alive. Israel has demanded a clarification of the captives' condition before beginning negotiations for their release. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said yesterday in response to the report that there has been no progress in the negotiations to free the captives.
There has been no word on the condition of the soldiers since October 7, the day of the capture. The soldiers appear to have been wounded, since blood was found at the site.
Defense sources recommended that reports on these matters in the Arab press be treated with considerable scepticism. They said that many of the reports published recently on this issue are part of Hezbollah's psychological warfare campaign.
Meanwhile, the parents of three soldiers Thursday asked the French government for help in finding out what happened to their sons.
"It has been 111 days since they were kidnapped, and we're in total darkness," Daphna Avraham, sister of Staff Sgt. Benyamin Avraham, said at a press conference in Paris. "A family member is sick and injured, and we don't know anything about him, and you can't reach out to him. It's very hard."
The families met Wednesday with Raymond Forni, president of the French National Assembly. Forni pledged to contact the International Committee of the Red Cross so the families can get information about the soldiers.
"There are today three Israelis in Lebanon whose condition is unknown," Forni said after the meeting. "This is a humanitarian problem."
The Geneva-based ICRC has in the past been a main intermediary in long negotiations that led to several exchanges between Israel and Lebanon.
However, Hezbollah has so far rejected ICRC requests to see the soldiers, and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted as saying that Israel will have to release Lebanese or Arab prisoners in exchange for information on the condition of the soldiers.