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Copyright 2001 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

March 15, 2001

HEADLINE: MIA's father wants rabbinical court to declare his son dead

BYLINE: Arieh O'Sullivan

JERUSALEM (March 15) - The parents of three soldiers missing in a June 1982 tank battle in Lebanon want the IDF to have a rabbinical court declare their sons dead, as a ploy to confront the army with what they see as its complacency regarding the men's fate.

"I want them to convene a religious court and, based on information that they have, to declare him dead," said Yona Baumel, the father of Zachary Baumel. "This is slightly disingenuous. I have a lot of information that he is still alive," said Baumel, who explained that his motive was to re-energize efforts to locate the missing soldiers.

He said that although the official IDF line was that the men were alive until proven otherwise, in private conversations investigators told him they were killed on the field of battle. The army's belief that it is searching for corpses, he said, is a factor in its lack of energy in seeking them.

He also accused IDF Intelligence, which is in charge of the search, of being needlessly competitive with other Israeli security agencies. This has resulted in the loss of leads, Baumel said.

The IDF confirmed yesterday that its Unit for Locating Missing Soldiers was reopening from scratch the investigation into the fate of the three.

The army said that it was setting up a new team which would question anyone connected to the battle at Sultan Yacoub, where Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz went missing after their armored battalion was ambushed.

It said it was a move undertaken periodically and that the search for the three would continue until they are found.

Baumel welcomed the news and said that for nearly 19 years, the soldiers' families have met with government leaders and officials to demand that the question of their sons' fate remains at the top of the defense establishment's MIA agenda.

In a separate development, the brother of one of three soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah on the Lebanese border last October said last night that their families, and the family of missing businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum were still waiting to hear whether they would be allowed to accompany Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on his visit to the US next week.

"Before he took office, Sharon promised to meet with us, but has yet to do so. By allowing us to join him in his visit we will be able to meet with US administration officials, where we will demand that Americans take a more active role. If Sharon's response is negative, we will know what to do," Ayal Avitan said yesterday.

On October 7, Hizbullah seized Ayal's brother Sgt. Adi Avitan, along with St.-Sgt. Omar Sawayid and St.-Sgt. Avraham Binyamin, as they patrolled near Mount Dov. Tannenbaum disappeared in Europe a few days after the Mount Dov ambush, and Hizbullah later claimed to have abducted him.

President Moshe Katzav yesterday said the Red Cross needs to try harder to solicit information on the kidnapped soldiers and hinted that they are suffering discrimination because they are Israelis.

"If we were talking about a different country, I'm sure the international community would be in an uproar and would demand at least a visit to the captured soldiers by the International Red Cross," Katsav told Army Radio.

The Red Cross said Katzav's comments were unwarranted and regrettable. Local spokesman Uriel Masad told AP that the organization "spares no effort to free any prisoner." Masad said the Red Cross has been in contact with the Lebanese government and Hizbullah, and was trying to exert pressure on all parties, to no avail.

Masad expressed regret that the soldiers have not received the protection they deserve, and added that Israel has ceased giving the Red Cross access to two high-profile Lebanese prisoners it is holding, Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid.

(Margot Dudkevitch and AP contributed to this report.)

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