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Copyright 2001 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

October 30, 2001

HEADLINE: IDF: Kidnapped Soldiers Probably Dead

BYLINE: Arieh O'Sullivan

JERUSALEM (October 30) - In a dramatic statement, the IDF announced last night that the three soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah on Mount Dov a year ago are most probably dead, thus culminating a year of agony for the families and toil for the defense establishment.

The IDF said it now believes that St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham and Omar Suwayed and Sgt. Adi Avitan were mortally wounded when their command car was attacked with mines and gunfire while on patrol on October 7, 2000.

There had been speculation from the very beginning that they did not survive the attack. But the defense establishment had until last night stuck firmly to its position that they were considered alive until proven otherwise.

That proof came a few days ago, said OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Gil Regev.

"According to the assessment of intelligence in our hands, there is a very high probability that the [soldiers] are dead," Regev said.

He said they either died during the attack or shortly afterward.

The Hizbullah said yesterday that the announcement was aimed at forcing it to respond so that Israel could receive information on the missing soldiers. Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the "Zionists" were wasting time and playing with the feelings of the families of the missing soldiers but that in the end, they would be forced to pay the humanitarian price demanded of them.

Regev said this was an updated assessment based on "credible" intelligence information from various sources received "a few days ago."

Regev said the final decision on the condition of the soldiers was up to the OC Chaplaincy Corps Brig.-Gen. Yisrael Weiss, who would make his ruling in a few days. Because one of the soldiers is a Muslim, he will consult with Muslim clerics.

Regev said that his announcement would not change Israel's determination to bring their bodies home. However, he refused to discuss any details or the origin of the new intelligence nor the state of negotiations.

The parents raised concerns that the announcement would put the issue on the back burner and efforts to retrieve them would founder. Regev assured them it would not.

"People are asking what happened," said Regev, who wore a pin symbolizing the missing servicemen. "The probability was greatly altered, and our basic assumption was changed. Until today, we believed they were alive. From now on, our position is that they are dead."

The IDF said it had never kept information from the families. Regev said he called the news conference for last night to stop rumors that quickly spread across the country yesterday afternoon. Some of those rumors said that body parts had been brought here and that a prisoner exchange was in the works. Regev categorically denied this.

He said that the latest piece of intelligence had been in the IDF's hands for a few days, but it waited to reveal it to the families until it could be cross-checked and verified.

Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz was presented with the new information and the updated assessment, and informed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer of the facts. He then instructed that the families be notified.

While refusing to divulge the character of the new intelligence, Regev did deny that it was something physical, like a body part or photograph.

"It is information, very sensitive and classified, and very credible," he said.

Regev also warned against possible attempts by Hizbullah to refute the IDF's new position.

"We presume that [Hizbullah] will contradict what we are saying now and will perhaps try to support its claims with all sorts of deceptive photos or other things," Regev said. "But we will remain firm in our position."

Hizbullah has honed its use of psychological warfare tactics. Its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has in the past turned to the parents of the three kidnapped soldiers, saying they should be aware that Israel had done nothing to secure their release.

Nasrallah has also maintained the soldiers were well, despite the bloodstains found at the scene of the kidnapping.

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