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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
September 26

HEADLINE: Arad family to receive report stating Ron alive


Army Radio reported Friday that the family of Air Force navigator Ron Arad, missing since bailing out over Lebanon in 1986, is to receive a copy of the report by the government commission of inquiry into his disappearance, albeit a censored version.

The High Court instructed the government to do so after the missing aviator's family appealed to the court demanding that the state reveal to them the findings of the Winograd report, which claims Ron Arad is still alive.

The appeal stated that, in light of the pending prisoner exchange deal, which is slated to release hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners for businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three missing IDF soldiers - but not Arad, the finding of the report must be made public.

Justice Asher Grunis ordered the state to respond by 10 am Friday.

A month ago, a special committee set up last year to reassess and examine the situation regarding the fate of Arad - whose plane went down over Lebanon 17 years ago - has concluded that he is still alive, noting that it has not received any evidence showing otherwise. This, the committee states in its report, must be adopted as a working hypothesis by the security system. The committee, headed by retired judge Eliahu Winograd, submitted its findings to Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon.

Dudu Arad, Ron's brother, said: "The report states Ron is alive, and we must do everything to ensure his return. I'm sorry to say the report is currently on the prime minister's desk, and is being ignored. Israel is sacrificing Ron. The report must be implemented, and if the government chooses to bury it it is also burying Ron.

"We will turn this country upside down to get the government to do all in its power for Ron's return. It is important the report is read before a decision on the prisoner exchange deal is made."

The Arad family attorney, Eliad Shraga, claims that Prime Minister Sharon promised to show the Winograd report to the family over a month ago. "Sharon promised us we could have our say before the prisoner exchange deal is settled. If Ron is alive it's a whole new ball game and we believe he is alive."

This is the second legal action taken by members of the Arad family, who on Wednesday declared war on the prisoner exchange deal with Hizbullah, which in the past week has reportedly reached advanced stages of negotiations. The deal is supposed to ensure the return of businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three missing IDF soldiers, St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid and Adi Avitan, but not Arad.

The family made the first step when they filed suit against Dirani on Wednesday, demanding NIS 100 million ($23 million) in compensation for the harm he has caused them while holding Arad in captivity for at least two years. "We will fight to the end to ensure that Dirani isn't released," said Arad's other brother, Chen. "I'm sorry that in the state of Israel we have to use money in order to do this, but we believe we are right. This lawsuit is only the means of holding Dirani here. As of now, this is the only way."

Amongst the prisoners Israel is to release as part of the deal is Dirani, who was snatched by the IDF in 1994 to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the release and return of Arad. The deal is said to exclude Arad.

The suit, filed at the Tel Aviv District Court, also demands that all of Dirani's possessions and rights be confiscated, including any money he might win from the $6 million suit he has filed against the state of Israel and its defense minister.

Dudu Arad said Wednesday that he would do everything to gain his brother's freedom. "Ron is a soldier. Israel does not abandon it's soldiers. What kind of message are we sending if we release Dirani without anything in return about Ron? The world must know that if you harm an Israeli soldier, you will pay a price."

Arad's family state in their suit that "members of the family have been harmed by the shocking and inhumane acts to which Dirani subjected Ron Arad." These include, according to the suit, wrongful imprisonment, negligence and assault. The family also blames Dirani for transferring Arad to Iran, where his traces have disappeared.

"I feel as if I am at war," said Chen Arad, "and I don't want to reveal my next steps but this is only the first stage in our campaign to prevent his [Dirani] release. We have a plan and will execute it soon." Arad's family has previously been quoted saying that the prisoner exchange deal, including Dirani while excluding Arad, is a desertion of Arad. They have claimed that Mustafa Dirani should not be released without at least information regarding the missing navigator.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Dirani and Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, also abducted as a bargaining chip, "did not bring any results" regarding Arad's whereabouts and that Arad has vanished without a trace.

In his first official remarks regarding the prisoner exchange deal, Sharon said that Israel's entire Cabinet - rather than a select group of ministers - will be asked to approve the swap. He said he would seek Cabinet approval for what he called a complex decision.

"Let there be not one minister who is not part of the discussion," Sharon told Maariv. "I want the ministers to be personally responsible for this decision."

Negotiations have gone further than ever before, Sharon added. "We are closer than before (to a deal), but it's still far from being finished."

Sharon also said that prisoner release would not include West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, presently tried by Israel on charges relating to terrorist atrocities in which 26 people were killed.

"Barghouti is responsible for acts of murder, and he is going to prison," Sharon said.

Regarding the Israeli captives, Sharon said Israel will insist on DNA testing of three bodies of Israeli soldiers that are to be handed over, and that he is certain Tannenbaum is alive - but that his health is deteriorating - and Israel can't wait much longer to win his freedom.

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said about 300 prisoners would be freed, but that there is no agreement yet on the names.

On Monday, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah pledged that the organization would "exert its utmost efforts" to obtain information about the fate of Arad. The family, however, views this as little more than lip service, designed by state officials to appease them for the exclusion of Arad from the prisoner exchange deal.

According to Army Radio, the details of the deal have already been worked out, and Israel is now waiting for Hizbullah to approve the agreement. The sources however stressed that there is as yet no written agreement between the two sides. Lebenese and Palestinian newspapers have claimed the deal would be sealed as early as next week.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz confirmed that the negotiations over the prisoner swap with the Hizbullah guerrilla group are in an advanced stage. Nevertheless, he warned of premature celebrations.

"We have bad experience dealing with the Hizbullah," he said.

Referring to the possible releases of hundreds of additional Arab prisoners, Mofaz said that "I'm not sure that they (the figures) are exact."

The Hizbullah run Al Manar Satellite TV station reported that the number of prisoners in question stood at 215, not 400 as previously reported.

Many of the Palestinian prisoners in question belong to Hamas, some of them with "blood on their hands."

Hizbullah also reported that Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leader in Nablus, Nasser Aweis, responsible for the deaths of about a dozen Israelis, might also be released in the swap. Aweis served as one of Marwan Barghouti's lieutentants carrying out dozens of attacks in the name of the Tanzim until his arrest in April 2002. the PFLP's Abdul Rahim Malouh could also be part of the swap, Al Manar reported.

Hizbullah is reportedly gaining popularity in Palestinian streets. The Al Manar broadcast a report showing Fatah leaders calling on Hizbullah to include their sons as on the prisoners' list. Fatah leader Qadura Fares and Abdul Jawad Saleh, a former Minister both lobbied to Hizbullah to work to free their sons.

Separately, President Moshe Katsav said the country is willing "to pay any price" to secure the release of long-missing IAF navigator Ron Arad.

"Regardless of the current negotiations with Hizbullah, Israel will continue to work for the release of Ron Arad, and he will remain an issue for all Israelis until he comes home," Katsav told reporters Tuesday morning.

Earlier in the week, Nasrallah, in an interview with the Lebanese daily As-Safir, reiterated that Hizbullah has no information about Arad but would now actively seek news of him in order to obtain details about eight missing Iranian diplomats and the release of more Palestinian prisoners not included in the proposed exchange.

"We have a lot of motivation and reasons to look into Arad's fate," he was quoted as saying. An English-language account of the interview was carried on the Jordanian Web site albawaba.com

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