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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
January 29

HEADLINE: Tannenbaum in Israeli custody


Planes from Israel and Lebanon arrived in Cologne Thursday morning carrying Elhanan Tannenbaum, the bodies of Omer Suwayid, Benny Avraham and Adi Avitan from Beirut, and 29 non-Palestinian prisoners from Israel, including Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abed el Karim Obeid.

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

Meanwhile, 60 bodies of Lebanese combatants await in 8 trucks to cross the border into Lebanon from Rosh Hanikra.

At present, forensic personnel are examining the bodies of the three abducted Israeli soldiers, while outside the closed hangars the press awaits the completion of this first part of the prisoner swap.

Meanwhile, at the Tarkumiya roadblock near Hebron 153 Palestinian prisoners are awaiting word from Germany, with Red Cross representatives on one side of the roadblock and busses on the other.

Four busses will be taking them from there to Hebron after Red Cross officials identify and examine them, and one bus will be continuing to Bethlehem.

At Betunia, another 59 prisoners aqwait release, at Tulkarm - 127, at Tsalem near Jenin - 37, and at the Erez roadblock - about 34.

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 publication ban 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.

The plane is due to fly the Israeli hostage and coffins to a German air base where, after identification checks, they are to be handed over to an Israeli delegation later Thursday.

In return, Israel has undertaken to release 400 Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, release 36 other prisoners who will be flown to Germany, and return the remains of 59 Lebanese militants across the Lebanese border.

Israel had declared the three soldiers to be dead, but their families had continued to hope that they were alive. Hizbullah had long refused to reveal anything about them.

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.

Hours before sunrise, an IAF plane, this time carrying a payload of 35 Lebanese, Moroccan, Syrian, Sudanese, and Libyan prisoners will take off from an Israeli air force base on route to the Cologne Military Base in Germany.

At the same time, a German Air Force plane will take off from an airport near Beirut - ironically only 250 km away - bearing the remains of Avitan, Avraham and Suaed to Germany.

Once there the IDF rabbinical and forensic teams are to receive, inspect and positively identify the bodies of the three soldiers. Should the DNA of the three soldiers not match that of the bodies sent from Beirut, the entire deal will be scrapped, said the military source.

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

The 35 Arab prisoners will essentially be held as collateral until the identities of the three soldiers are examined and verified. Thereafter, the Lebanese are to be flown back to Lebanon while some of the other Arab nationals will be dispatched to their home embassies.

Meantime buses carrying the 400 Palestinian prisoners are to wait until they hear the word from Germany that the three bodies sent from Beirut indeed match the DNA of Avraham, Avitan, and Suaed. At that moment the buses will be sent to five different crossings in the West Bank and Gaza.

They will begin their approach to the checkpoints at around 9AM, the same time that These teams arrived in Germany on Wednesday to prepare the ground for the arrival of what the IDF believes will be the remains of Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Suaed.

At the very same moment, which will occur sometime in the early afternoon, the buses carrying the coffins of 59 Lebanese fighters killed in Israel's former security zone in southern Lebanon are to be transferred across the border to Lebanon at Rosh Hanikra.

Some 30 Palestinians are to be dropped off at the Gaza checkpoint of Erez. Another 150 will be sent to the Turkemiyeh crossing near the Hebron Hills. 135 will be transferred in Tulkarem, 60 in the Ramallah area neighborhood of Beituniya and another 40 in Salem in the north of the West Bank.

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

If the swap goes smoothly, said the source, the bodies of the three soldiers and Tannenbaum will be flown back to the Ben Gurion Air Force Base at about 6:30 PM Israel time. Tannenbaum will be separated from the three upon landing in Israel, likely whisked away to hospital.

The state will then hold a ceremony bestowing full military honors on the three soldiers. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, and others are scheduled to eulogize the soldiers.

Margot Dudkevitch contributed to this report

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