Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: PM meets with hostages' families
BYLINE: MATTHEW GUTMAN
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with the members of the Avitan, Avraham, Sawayid, and Tannenbaum families Thursday to update them on the details of the impending prisoner swap with Hizbullah, and perhaps to ease their concern that the cabinet might not approve the exchange in Sunday's vote.
The bargain in which Israel would release over 400 Palestinian, Lebanese, and other Arab prisoners in exchange for businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of soldiers Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham, and Omar Sawayid, is all but sealed, yet requires the cabinet's approval.
"The prime minister is very determined to go through with the deal," Adi's father Ya'acov Avitan told Channel 1 Thursday night.
The families scrambled Thursday to secure the support of the undecided ministers, bombarding them with all the information in their grasp and pleading with them to work to put an end to three years of suffering and uncertainty.
Avitan opened his meeting with Health Minister Dan Naveh, who says he has deep reservations about the deal, saying that "it is important to understand that we understand the dilemmas, but the decision needs to pass."
Avitan and the rest of the families canvassed the Knesset meeting at one point or another, approaching Education Minister Limor Livnat, Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev, Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam, and others who openly opposed the deal as currently tabled, or are undecided.
Naveh, who parted from the family with a big bear hug, said before the meeting, "I love them and I will talk to them as if they were kin, and I will explain to them my reservations." After the televised hug, the minister said, "my heart is torn." Before her meeting with the prime minister, Keren Tannenbaum, Elhanan's daughter, told reporters: "I hope that every minister that votes will wake the next morning knowing that he made the correct ethical decision. Right now, we are forced to beg for the life of my father."
After deciding Wednesday to present the nearly completed deal to the cabinet Sharon told his aides, "life and death hangs in the balance of this decision." It is believed that if the swap as negotiated is not concluded, Tannenbaum might die in captivity.
Increasingly serving as her family's spokeswoman, Efrat Avraham, Benny's sister, stressed how important it was "that the ministers see the families, and be certain in what they do, because it [is a decision of] to be or not to be."
The Arad family said that it is not granting interviews. "Everything we have to say, has already been said," family spokesman, and Ron Arad's brother, Chen told The Jerusalem Post.
The family has demanded that Mustafa Dirani, who captured Arad in 1986, be excluded from the deal. But Israeli negotiators are convinced that Dirani's utility as a bargaining chip has reached his limit and that Hizbullah has no relevant information that could lead to Arad.
Chen and Dudu Arad were to meet with Naveh Thursday, and with the prime minister late Thursday night. Sharon is likely to tell the family that Arad will not come home with Tannenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers.
While Arad is not to be included in the swap, Sharon has vowed to make every effort to obtain information about his fate. He has said that Israel has additional bargaining chips in Europe.
Hizbullah has maintained that it possesses no information that could help Israel, though it has agreed, in theory, to participate in a committee investigating his fate.
The Arad family launched a multi-million dollar campaign to refocus public opinion on the missing airman, after his cause began to fade from public interest.
Israel has received no hard evidence regarding Arad's condition or location since 1988.
Sharon promised to tell the Arad family of the details of any deal before it was finalized.
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