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Copyright 2003 Jerusalem Post
November 06

HEADLINE: Sultan Yakoub families left out of prisoner deal


The families of the three missing soldiers from the 1982 Sultan Yakoub battle - Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz - were excluded from meetings with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other ministers on Thursday in preparation for the cabinet vote on Sunday over the pending prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbullah.

They met instead with the families of businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan, and Omar Sawayid, who were abducted in 2000, as well as the family of IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad, missing since 1986.

In the emerging prisoner exchange, Israel has agreed to release some 400 Palestinian and Lebanese security prisoners, including Amal leader Mustafa Dirani and Hizbullah Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, in exchange for Tannenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers. Arad and the three missing soldiers from the Sultan Yakoub battle are not included in the deal.

Miriam and Yona Baumel purposely maintained a low profile in recent weeks and did not take a public stand over the prisoner deal currently being negotiated.

"No one has been in touch with any of the families or even taken the time or trouble to update us," Yona Baumel told The Jerusalem Post. "The only person who mentioned the boys from Sultan Yakoub was Minister Zevulun Orlev. It's as though they've ceased to exist. It's been a long time now since we have been able to depend on the government, and have resorted to searching and seeking information about our son by ourselves."

The couple strongly disagree with the IDF's position and feel that not enough has been done or channels explored to retrieve information regarding the soldiers' fates.

"Currently we are engaged in a struggle with the military authorities as to what happened to our son, Zak. We have information that he is alive and being held in Syria. We don't feel that the army has done enough."

For almost three years the couple have been in contact with sources in Damascus in an effort to find information. In July this year a report in Ma'ariv quoted Syrian President Bashar Assad as telling UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen that he knows the whereabouts of Israel's missing soldiers. Later, Larsen claimed the report was incorrect.

"We know for a fact that the report was true," said Baumel.

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