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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
August 27

HEADLINE: Prisoners' relatives express mixed reactions over swap


Relatives of the kidnapped Israelis are wavering between hope and anger following media reports of a prisoner swap occurring within months between Israel and Hizbullah. "I'm hopeful that we will have good news soon; it is the first time we have felt that something is happening," said Haim Avraham, the father of a kidnapped soldier St.-Sgt. Benny Avraham, to reporters prior to meeting with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday.

The chief representative of the International Red Cross in Israel, Franscois Blon, Wednesday visited the parents of missing Israeli soldier Benny Avraham at their home in Petah Tikva. Avraham was kidnapped by Hizbullah from Har Dov on the Lebanese border in October 2000.

Before the meeting, Blon told reporters he had no new information about the fate of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers held by the Lebanese Shiite group. "We are not party to any negotiations," said the Red Cross chief, adding "I am here to be with the family in these very difficult times for them. The minute we have any new information about the kidnapped soldiers, we will ofcourse update the families."

Despite saying he had no new information about the fate of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers held by the Lebanese Shiite group, Blon did say that negotiations between Israel and the Hizbullah had already reached "the point of no return".

In sharp contrast to the Avrahams, the family of missing airman Ron Arad has lashed out at the government in the last few days, angered by reports that the swap might include only Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was kidnapped in Switzerland in October 2000.

They are also upset by rumors that the swap will include Mustafa Dirani, captured in 1994. It is believed that he is responsible for the kidnapping of Arad, downed in a mission over Lebanon in 1986.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Wednesday that Israel would make every possible effort to bring all of the missing Israelis home.

"I commit myself to not disregard or forget any of the missing people. We will do all we can in order to bring our sons home," Mofaz said.

But Ron Arad's brother Chen said, "it looks like someone has forgotten Ron." He said that everything he knows about a possible swap has come to him by way of the media. Since then he has tried, unsuccessfully, to get more information from the government.

"I didn't get any reply. No one is telling me anything," Chen Arad said. Jokingly he added that maybe they were trying to call while he was on the phone with The Jerusalem Post, but then he noted that they had his cellphone number as well.

"But there is smoke, so I believe there is fire," he said. "If the rumors are correct that the Israeli government is only swapping one prisoner, we think someone should rethink the process.

You cannot leave someone or forget someone who was sent on a mission. You have an obligation to this guy.

We think that it is outrageous that someone wanted to forget him. So we are trying to say a few words against the government attitude and the IDF attitude," Arad said. "We are dealing with facts and with actions, not feelings. So maybe I have hard feelings. But what I am looking for is to try and move the issue forward," he said.

Daniel Grisaro, spokesman for the International Coalition for Missing Soldiers, said he too believes that Arad and the other eight Israelis have been forgotten by the government. "We are demanding now from the government, the United Nations, and the Red Cross that if there is a release of Dirani and (Sheikh Abdel Karim) Obeid, there should be a release of all Israeli MIAs and hostages. They should do one deal for everyone, or otherwise no deal."

In a interview with Channel 2 on Wednesday Avraham, however, defended the government, saying it was too soon to be critical.

His son was one of three soldiers abducted by Hizbullah while patrolling the Lebanese border in October 2000.

He appeared hopeful Wednesday after the Red Cross visit, even though its spokesman Uriel Masad said, "we didn't bring him any news whatsoever."

Masad added that such Red Cross visits to families of kidnapped Israelis are common. Officials in the organizations visited as a show of support and not by way of giving out information.

"We very much hope that the events of this week will indeed by the beginning of some kind of settlement in which all those detained outside their country will be able to return home," Masad said.

Avraham cautioned the families to wait until they had more information and to have more confidence in the government. It's not clear that there will be a deal or what that deal will be, Avraham said.

"Let those have worked on this for years, to continue to so quietly," he said adding that prisoners like Dirani and Obeid are assets that Israel can use to help all the families.

MK Danny Yatom (Labor) echoed Avraham, explaining that unfortunately, Dirani does not belong solely to the Arad family and is a trading card that Israel can use.

He added that he is close to the issue, and knows firsthand how much Israel is doing to bring everyone home.

Yatom said that the government is not distinguishing between one hostage and the other; it is committed to all of them.

There are two stages to this issue, one is collecting information and the other is obtaining the release of hostages, Yatom said, adding that Israel is working on both tracks at once. He also cautioned that nothing is final.

"This isn't the first time we have been in this dilemma," said Yatom, adding that there have been other times when Israel appeared close to getting the hostages back and then failed to do so at the last moment.

"The assumption is that Arad is alive and we have to continue to work as if he is alive," Yatom said.

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