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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
January 29



The plane carrying Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers landed safely at Ben-Gurion Airport at 7 P.M. Thursday.

Minutes later, a plane carrying the released Lebanese prisoners landed in Beirut.

The scenes in Israel and Lebanon could not have been more opposite.

Under a night sky of celebratory fireworks, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Hizbullah, and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud were at the airport to greet the former prisoners. Nasrallah kissed and hugged Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abed el Karim Obeid, the prime prisoners released in the German-mediated deal.

In Israel, a sullen crowd gathered for a state ceremony in honor of three fallen Israeli soldiers, set to begin at 8 P.M. at Ben Gurion airport. The coffins of Omer Sawayid, Benny Avraham and Adi Avitan will be displayed and the event will be attended by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Moshe Katzav and senior IDF officers. Kidnapped businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum will not take part in the ceremony. Follwing a brief reunification with his family, the man shrowded in mystery will be taken for a medical examination, followed by an appointment with Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet.

No arrest warrant has been issued for Tannenbaum.

All of these handovers, swaps, and drop-offs, were monitored by officials belonging to the office of German mediator Ernst Uhrlau.

Following the exchange, Tannenbaum was immediately taken by security officials for investigations and medical examination before being flown on to Israel.

In Israel, 60 bodies of Lebanese combatants in 8 trucks crossed the border into Lebanon from Rosh Hanikra.

Forensic personnel first finished examining the bodies of the three abducted Israeli soldiers signaling the go-ahead for the completion of this first part of the prisoner swap.

"We are releasing another 400 Palestinians with a very heavy heart, because we know that these 400 will return very quickly to the cycle of violence," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said in Jerusalem.

At the Tarkumiya roadblock near Hebron 153 Palestinian prisoners who had been awaiting word from Germany since early Thursday morning were transferred from Israeli busses, inside which they had their handcuffs removed, to Palestinian busses, after being identified by Red Cross officials.

The prisoners emerged from Israeli busses showing the peace sign and praising Hizbullah leader Sheikh Nasrallah. They said that in the next deal all those serving life sentences will be released ,accused Israel of setting the region on fire and yelled out god is great.

Four busses took them from there to Hebron, and one bus to Bethlehem.

At Betunia, another 59 prisoners were released, at Tulkarm - 127, at Tsalem near Jenin - 37, and at the Erez roadblock - about 34, altogether 401 Palestinian prisoners are being currently released.

From 6 this morning nearly 400 Palestinian prisoners were taken by buses to military bases near the roadblocks where they will wait till authorities receive the go-ahead from Germany to release them after the identification process of the soldiers' bodies is finalized Regarding Tanenbaum, a gag order will be imposed on the investigation, which will be carried out by the police, the unit for international crimes squad and the Shinbet In a suprising interview aired just hour before he was slated to fly to Germany for the prisoner exchange Elchanan Tannenbaum claimed that he had ventured to Lebanon, "in order to gather information on Ron Arad," he said on Al Manar, Hizbullah's main TV channel.

He added that he had also sought to enrich himself in his search for information and possible lucrative business deals in Iran.

If true, the broadcast puts into question the Israeli version of events, that Tannenbaum is a criminal, deserving of ignomy and punishment once repatriated.

However, government sources in Jerusalem estimate that the tape is no more than a tool of psychological warfare: what can one expect of a man interviewed while in custody? The truth will come out only after we interrogate him, they said.

In an interview clearly scheduled to hit Israeli TV's in Primetime, Hizbullah portrayed Tannenbaum before a professional interviewer.

A healthy looking Tannenbaum, with all his teeth intact, as opposed to initial reports, claimed that Hizbullah had treated him "humanely," and that he had "no complaints," about the way the organization treated him.

He has said that he heard of the Israeli claims made against him, and that they were all wrong and misguided.

The interview was conducted in a well-funished room. Tannenbaum dressed in a gray pullover sat in a plush green chair, but rarely looked at his interlocuter.

After his arrival in Israel Thursday evening Tannenbaum is to spend about one half hour with his family and then be whisked away for questioning by the Shin Bet, among other security services.

Elhanan Tannenbaum and the coffins of the three kidnapped Israeli soldiers flew out of Beirut early Thursday for Germany where they are to be handed over as part of a major exchange of prisoners with Israel.

As the businessman walked toward the plane, he spoke briefly to The Associated Press: "My name is Elhanan Tannenbaum and I am an Israeli citizen," he said.

Asked about his treatment in captivity, he replied: "Very good. Very good. Thank you. I was treated very well by the Hizbullah."

When asked how he was kidnapped in October 2000, Tannenbaum said: "I cannot answer this question."

The HIzbullah took Israeli hostage Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers to a German air force plane which landed in Beirut early Thursday.

It was only hours before their coffins arrived at the Beirut airport that Hizbullah announced that the three Israeli troops were dead through its mouthpiece television channel al-Manar.

"Hizbullah will hand over tonight the bodies of three Zionist soldiers and the prisoner of war Elhanan Tannenbaum," Hizbullah's Al Manar television channel said in a late night broadcast.

"All the soldiers are dead," the presenter said in a later broadcast, quoting unidentified Hizbullah officials. The channel gave no other details.

The group had long refused to divulge the fate of the soldiers whom it captured on the Israeli-Lebanese border in 2000.

Al Manar television broadcast exclusive footage of the airport showing the Israeli hostage Elhanan Tannenbaum walking toward the plane accompanied by liaison officials. The channel also showed three wooden boxes that contained coffins.

Speaking to al-Manar, his kidnappers' television station, Elhanan Tannenbaum said late Wednesday his mission was to "request and find information on the missing airman apparently taken prisoner in Lebanon, Ron Arad."

"At the same time I came to do something for my own house from a financial point of view," he told the interviewer.

The interview was conducted in a well-funished room. Dressed in a gray pullover sat in a plush green chair, Tannenbaum rarely looked at his interlocuter.

"If I found any serious information, I would pass it on to my own authorities. And if I didn't find anything, no harm was done," he said. The video also shows a surprisingly middle-aged Tannenbaum shakily getting dressed.

Tannenbaum praised his kidnappers. "I was treated well, I was fed regularly, I received medical treatment," he said. "I have no complaints."

"The humanitarian treatment I received, the food... it all changed my perception. I definitely have a more humane view of Hizbullah than I did."

"I know there are claims against me," he said, "but nobody knew the goals of my mission."

If true, the broadcast puts into question the Israeli version of events, that Tannenbaum is a criminal, deserving of ignomy and punishment once repatriated.

Israeli officials reacted swiftly to the video. "What can you expect from a man talking while he's a prisoner?" one official said. "When he's interrogated then it will be possible to unearth the truth. This is psychological warfare."

After Tannenbaum's arrival in Israel Thursday evening, he is to spend about half an hour with his family before being whisked away for questioning by the Shin Bet, among other security services.

Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid were released Wednesday night from the Rimonim prison along with other prisoners from Arab countries. The prisoners are to be flown to Germany overnight. From Germany they will be flown to their respective countries, following the final identification of the three IDF soldiers, Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sayawid by the army rabbinate.

Thursday's prisoner exchange is to be a simultaneous action involving hundreds of people working in precise coordination, culminating in a huge state ceremony for the three repatriated soldiers, and an effective shunning for civilian Elchanan Tannenbaum, military sources said Wednesday evening.

At no time during the swap, or the evening's ceremony, is the media to have access to Tannenbaum.

With AP

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