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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
January 24

HEADLINE: 'The pain is only just starting'


More than three years of anxiety, gnawing doubt and longed-for hope, are about to end for the families of four Israelis held hostage by Hizbullah, while for three others the trauma is likely to continue for the time being.

"We will receive our sons and hug them if they are alive or, if not, we will bury them here in Israel, but we have still not come to the end of this matter," Haim Avraham, father of St.-Sgt. Benny Avraham said on Saturday night.

"Hizbullah has still not relayed positive information about the state of our sons. From our point of view as long as there is no concrete information that has been confirmed by Israel they are still alive," Avraham told reporters.

His son was kidnapped along with St.-Sgts. Omar Suwayeed and Adi Avitan, in a Hizbullah ambush on the Israeli side of the withdrawal line in the Mount Dov area inn October 2000.

The IDF subsequently declared the three soldiers to be dead and their place of burial unknown, although there has been no official confirmation from independent sources.

Shortly after their capture, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah announced that the organization was also holding Israeli businessman and retired Colonel Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was abducted while on a trip abroad.

Tannenbaum is known to be alive although his is not in good health and recently there were reports that there was a danger he might die in captivity because of his deteriorating condition.

His son Ori and daugther Keren and their mother led an international campaign to press for his release and defended his humanity and honor in the past few months amid conflicting reports over the circumstances that led to his capture by Hizbullah.

The family declined to give interviews on Saturday night but expressed the fervent hope, in a statement they issued, that they would all soon be reunited.

For the families of the missing soldiers, feelings were more mixed after the news, of which they had been previously informed, that an agreement over an exchange had been reached with Hizbullah through German mediators.

"From our point of view, the grief and pain is only just starting. We have undergone the most difficult period that any citizen could undergo," said Avraham on Saturday night after speaking earlier to the Chief of Staff.

He praised the efforts of all those who have been invovled in the efforts to bring about the return of all the hostages and not to abandon them, despite his criticism of the IDF over the circumstances of the kidnapping.

Avraham, his voice breaking and tears in his eyes, said he had thanked the Chief of Staff and the State for everything that had been done.

Later he received a call from Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz in which he voiced his heartache over the fact that Israel had still not received from Hizbullah any concrete data about the fate of their sons.

Ya'acov Avitan, father of Adi, said their feelings were very mixed until the whole issue was resolved. He also received a call from Mofaz.

"We want it to happen and when it does we will believe that our sons have returned and that is over. When our sons land here, and I understand they will first be taken to Germany, then I will know its all over," Avitan told reporters.

The family of Suwayeed said they had received information from the army on Friday that an agreement had been reached and that the exchange would take place in a few days.

Mohamad Suwayeed, a relative of Omar, told Israel Radio, that they had not received any new information about the fate of the hostages.

"The feelings of the family are mixed. We see that the agreement is going to be fulfilled, but every day that passes until it is concluded is like a year for us because we don't know nothing about the soldiers and their and it hurts us very much.

"I identify very much with the family of (Lt.-Col.) Ron Arad and I hope he will return and that all of them will return to their homes," he said.

The family of the missing IAF navigator did not comment officially last night, despite previous oppositiion to the deal because it did not involve the release and return of Arad, or at least concrete information about his fate.

Details of the fate of Arad appear to be have been tied to the release of Lebanese Druse Samir Kuntar who led a Palestinian terrorist squad that was responsible for the deaths in Nahariya in 1979 of a father and his two young daughters and a policeman. The families of the victims have so far opposed Kuntar's release.

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