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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
July 6

HEADLINE: Lebanese Paper Claims Remains Found Are Not MIAs


The Lebanese Al-Mustaqbal newspaper reported on Friday that the skeletal remains found by a farmer in the south Lebanese village of Hamra a day earlier could be the bodies of Palestinians and not Israelis as originally reported. The Hizbullah-affiliated Nur radio station on Thursday claimed that the remains of three bodies dated back to the "Zionist occupation."

Thursday's report led to speculation that the remains could be those of IDF soldiers Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman, missing in action in the battle of Sultan Yakoub in 1982.

While Israeli officials raised doubts over the report, the IDF contacted the United Nations and the International Red Cross asking for their assistance regarding DNA tests to determine whether they match the three missing soldiers.

Friday's newspaper report claimed that the bodies could belong to a Palestinian woman and two men who died some 20 years ago. According to the report the skeletons were handed over to the local police and not 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 20 years ago there were battles in the area between local opposition groups.

The Coalition for Israeli Soldiers Missing in Action called on the government not to release any more Palestinian prisoners until information regarding all the Israeli MIAs 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, but also to IAF navigator Ron Arad, missing since 1986, and those kidnapped by Hizbullah in 2000, St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Omar Suwayeed, and Adi Avitan, whom the IDF believe dead, businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, and Guy Hever, who disappeared from the Golan Heights in 1997.

Coalition spokesman Daniel Grisaro said on June 26, Yona Baumel faxed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asking, "The release of terrorists affiliated with the PLO, yes, and the Israeli MIAs, IDF soldiers, no?"

Grisaro reminded Sharon that in 1996, when he was the minister of national infrastructure, he promised the families he would do everything in his power to bring their sons home if he were elected prime minister. "Now you are prime minister," Grisaro reminded Sharon.

Several weeks ago in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Baumel's father, Yona, 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 passed on the information to 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 1 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 displayed 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 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 but as they began to drive away the IAF bombed the site. 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 and and the soldiers were dead.

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 Yona 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 the Syrian Jewish community at Pessah 1983 after 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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