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Copyright 2004 Maariv International
January 26

HEADLINE: Nassrallah refuses to reveal if missing soldiers still alive

Says he will act to achieve progress on Ron Arad. IDF has regarded them as KIA for some time.

BYLINE: Jackie Hugie and ileil Shahar

Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nassrallah, is maintaining his ambiguity over the fate of the three missing IDF soldiers, Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan, and Omar Sawaid.

During a press conference in Beirut, Nassrallah was asked whether the missing Israelis could still be alive. He avoided the question and answered: "Wait for Thursday and you'll know. Only a few more days are left".

When asked whether Hezbollah is planning more abductions, Nassrallah smiled and replied: "Yes, there will be more abductions". Nassrallah said that Elhanan Tennenbaum and the three soldiers would be delivered to Israel on Thursday.

Nassrallah added that the second phase in the POW swap would be "larger and more serious". Regarding the fate of missing airman Ron Arad, the Hezbollah leader said: "Any positive signal in the Arad matter will open the door for the release of additional Arab and Palestinian prisoners, including difficult cases". He added, "We intend to act efficiently and seriously in order to achieve progress in this complex and difficult matter".

Regarding the release of terrorist Samir Kuntar, Nassrallah said he does not wish to discuss the matter at this point. He emphasized that the Hezbollah is committed to resolving the matter, saying that Kuntar will be the Hezbollah's "Main concern in the coming weeks".

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said during a government session this morning that Israel proved yet again that it acts in line with the "most important value of returning the sons home". Sharon added: "We made the correct, moral, and responsible decision".

Sharon indicated that the deal with the Hezbollah stipulates a mechanism involving all relevant parties involved and entrusted with resolving the Ron Arad issue. The Prime Minister added: "I want to stress that the murderer [Samir Kuntar] of the Haran family and of constable Elihau Azulay will not be released until Israel receives tangible and substantiated information on the fate of Ron Arad".

According to the deal with the Hezbollah, Israel will receive Tennenbaum and the bodies of the three soldiers in exchange for the release of 435 prisoners, including Mustafa Dirani and Sheik Obeid. In addition, Israel will transfer the bodies of 50 Lebanese who died in fighting against Israel and the bodies of another missing 29 Lebanese. Israel is also to provide minefield maps in southern Lebanon and in the western Beqa Valley.

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