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Copyright 2001 The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post

June 13, 2001

HEADLINE: Nasrallah Admits IDF Captives Are Alive

By Jerusalem Post Staff and News Agencies

(June 13) - Israel is risking the lives of three captured soldiers and an Israeli businessman by linking the release of captive Hizbullah leader Mustafa Dirani to missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said yesterday.

At a rally in Beirut, Nasrallah gave the first indication that the abducted Israeli are alive: "We told the Israelis, 'Don't play the time game. There are living people who could die, and we take no responsibility.' Let the families of the Zionist prisoners understand this."

Three IDF soldiers - Staff-Sgts. Omar Sawayid and Avraham Binyamin and Sgt. Adi Avitan - were captured in an ambush on the northern border in the Mount Dov region on October 7. A few days later Hizbullah announced it was also holding Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, a reserve colonel who was apparently kidnapped while on a trip abroad.

Since then no concrete information has been released about their fate or even their state of health and Hizbullah has categorically refused repeated Red Cross requests to visit them.

"I say to Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of the enemy: You are not linking the fate of Mustafa Dirani to the fate of Ron Arad, who became a mystery," said Nasrallah. "You are linking the fate of your four soldiers with the fate of Arad."

Nasrallah, who was speaking at a ceremony to honor Dirani, said Hizbullah will declare a "clear and decisive" position on negotiations for an exchange of prisoners.

"The Israelis are playing for time. They are trying to link the case of Dirani with that of Arad. This point is not for discussion," said Nasrallah. "If Ron Arad exists or not, if he appears or not, there will not be a prisoner swap without Dirani."

The Sawayid family last night expressed satisfaction at Nasrallah's indication that their son and the others are alive. "We have hoped and believed all along that Omar and his two comrades are alive," said the soldier's uncle, Muhammad Sawayid. "Now we're waiting for the next development."

Dirani was abducted by a commando unit from Lebanon in 1994. Human-rights groups say Israel also holds another 12 Lebanese.

Israel said it abducted Dirani to find out information on Arad, whose plane went down in Lebanon in 1986.

The Defense Ministry said last night that Israel is sparing no effort to bring home the kidnapped Israelis from Lebanon. The defense establishment considers the three soldiers alive, since there hasn't been proof otherwise.

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