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Copyright 2002 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

July 14, 2002

HEADLINE: MIA families appeal via US government to leaders of Lebanon, Syria, and Iran

BYLINE: Melissa Radler

(New York) In an effort to secure the release or remains of their loved ones, the families of four Israelis who were kidnapped by Hizbullah nearly two years ago are sending letters, with US government assistance, to the leaders of Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

On Thursday, Governor George Pataki pledged to have copies of the letter delivered, through third parties, to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, and President Muhammad Khatami of Iran. A copy of the letter is also being sent to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"No matter what one's nationality or faith, losing a child destroys one's world," states the letter, which was signed by the parents of St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham and Omar Suwayeed and Sgt. Adi Avitan, who were ambushed on October 7, 2000 in the Mount Dov area, and the wife and son of Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was kidnapped eight days later in Europe.

Earlier this year, the IDF declared the three soldiers were dead, with their place of burial unknown.

"Of course we hope and pray that our children can be restored to us alive and able to rejoin the life of our families. However, even if they are no longer living, we yearn to have their remains brought home," the letter continues."We wait by empty beds and empty graves for your answer."

The families, who were on their fifth visit to the US since the kidnappings, also made headway in Washington, where they met with more than a dozen congressmen and senators. Among them was Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican of Lebanese descent who promised to bring up the matter directly with the Lebanese government, they said.

Last week, Issa posted photos of the missing men on his Web site with a note urging constituents to send messages of support to the families. House leaders also pledged to hold a hearing in the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights and write a 'Dear Colleague' letter on the issue, said Minister-without-Portfolio Dan Naveh, who accompanied the families on their visit.

State Department officials also told the families that they are working on the issue, and several Jewish leaders and congressional staffers said they were told it was raised during a meeting last month between US Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara, who visited New York to preside over the UN Security Council.

However, a spokesman at Negroponte's office said the topic was never broached. "I don't recall it being raised," he said. "There were a lot of issues and I don't think we had time to raise it."

MK Eli Cohen, who joined the families in New York on Thursday, noted that the Knesset is due to vote on Wednesday on a bill that, if passed, will prevent Israel from signing peace agreements with Syria, Lebanon, or the Palestinians unless the fate of Israeli MIAs is disclosed. Both Cohen and Naveh are backing the passage of the proposed law, which has languished in the Knesset for years.

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