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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
July 5

HEADLINE: Families of MIA's Call on Government Not to Release Palestinian Prisoners


The Coalition for Missing Israeli Soldiers in Action called on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and government officials not to release any more Palestinian prisoners until information regarding all the Israeli MIA's is received and the missing boys are brought home.

The demand does not only relate to the three missing soldiers from the Sultan Yakoub battle Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman but also to IAF navigater Ron Arad, and those kidnapped by the Hizbullah in 2000, Stf.Sgts. Benny Avraham, Omar Suwayeed and Adi Avitan who the IDF declared dead and Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum as well as Guy Hever.

Coalition spokesman Daniel Grisaro said on June 26, Yona Baumel faxed Sharon declaring "the release of terrorists affiliated with the PLO yes and the Israeli MIA's, IDF soldiers no?"

Grisaro reminded Sharon that in 1996 when he was the Minister of Infrastructure he promised the families he would do everything in his power to bring their sons home if he was elected Prime Minister. "Now you are Prime Minister," Grisaro reminded Sharon.

The demands made by the coalition acting on behalf of the families came after the Lebanese Al Mustaqbal newspaper reported on Friday that the skeletal remains found by a farmer in the south Lebanese village Hamra a day earlier could be the bodies of Palestinians and not Israelis as originally reported in the Hizbullah affiliated Nur radio station on Thursday that claimed that the skeletal remains of three bodies had been found by a farmer and stemmed back to the times of the "Zionist occupation."

The newspaper report claimed that the bodies could belong to a Palestinian woman and two men who died some twenty years ago. According to the report the skeletons were handed over to the local police and not the Hizbullah shortly after they were found by the farmer.

The same report also quoted an official who claimed remnants of clothing including woman's clothing were found near the remains and that twenty years ago there were battles in the area between internal opposition groups.

While Israeli officials said they were sceptical of the initial report from that the remains could belong to those of the three IDF soldiers who went missing in action during the Sultan Yakoub battle in 1982, the IDF has contacted United Nations and International Red Cross officials asking for their assistance regarding DNA testings of the bodies in order to determine whether they match those of the three missing IDF soldiers.

Several weeks ago in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Baumel said he received information indicating that his son may be alive and had been moved from Damascus to Lebanon shortly before US Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Damascus he said.

At the same time he passed on the information he received to Prime Minister Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as well as other security officials. In the past years various pieces of information regarding the fate of the three soldiers from the Sultan Yakoub battle has surfaced.

On Friday, Channel One reported that a KGB document from 1989 claimed the three were killed in battle and their remains are being held in Syria. In 2001, reports were received that one of two tanks dispalyed in a Russian military museum located a 100 kilometers from Moscow is believed to have been used in the Sultan Yakoub battle and contained body parts, personal belongings and documents when it arrived in Russia.

Around the same time a Fatah commander in Sultan Yakoub Ghazi Atallah claimed that the three soldiers were taken in alive but were later killed in an IAF raid when they were being transferred in his jeep. He claimed that the soldiers whose hands and legs were tied were placed in his jeep and as they began to leave the area the IAF shelled the site and he and his driver jumped out of the vehicle leaving the three trussed soldiers inside.

He said that when he later returned there was nothing left of the jeep which was completely burned out and the charred remains of the soldiers. His statements made headlines but shortly after he retracted them claiming he had no knowledge of their fate.

Officials at the time said they believed he had become frightened over the huge response his statements generated in the media worldwide and was possibly forced to retract them. At the time Baumel declared that if indeed Atallah had information he should contact the families and inform them.

The families of the three missing soldiers received information from Syrian Jewish officials way back in Passover 1983 when they were approached by the Syrian authorities and asked to prepare three Haggadot and three Kosher meals for three IDF soldiers who were prisoners.

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