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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
May 3

HEADLINE: Ron Arad information said pending


Three months after the prisoner exchange deal with Hizbullah, dramatic developments regarding the second and final phase including information on the fate of missing IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad are reportedly pending.

According to reports in the Arabic press, Hizbullah has issued an ultimatum to Israel to release convicted murderer Samir Kuntar within three weeks, in return for concrete information on Arad's fate.

The reports were preceded by comments by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon on the eve of Independence Day, in which he intimated that a resolution may soon be in the offing.

The speculation was further heightened by a report on Channel 2 on Monday night that the second phase of the German-brokered deal with Hizbullah is near completion.

The Channel 2 report, which was said to be limited by censor and security restrictions, maintained that the government will soon be asked to decide on the release of Kuntar.

The Lebanese Druse killed Danny Haran, 28, his daughters Einat, four, and Yael, two, as well as policeman Eliahu Shahar in a 1979 terrorist attack in Nahariya, as head of the Palestine Liberation Squad.

The government refused to include Kuntar in the first phase of the deal with Hizbullah, in which 401 Palestinians and 29 Lebanese and Arab nationals were freed by Israel in exchange for businessman and IDF reserves Lt.-Col. Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of St.-Sgts. Adi Avitan, Omar Sawayid, and Benny Avraham.

The German negotiators, headed by Ernst Uhrlau, originally suggested the two-stage deal in order to break the deadlock over Israel's concern with Arad and Hizbullah's initial insistence that Kuntar be freed in the first round.

Despite the latest reports, there was still skepticism among those who have been fighting for the release and return of Arad since he was captured after ejecting from his plane over Lebanon in October 1986.

He was known to be alive at the time and was held for over a year by former Amal security chief Mustafa Dirani, who allegedly sold Arad to Iran. Dirani was later snatched from Lebanon by Israel. Despite the efforts of Arad's family to block his release, Dirani was among those freed under the first phase of the prisoner exchange.

Yoske Harari, chairman of the Fellowship for Ron Arad's Release, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday night that the group's primary aim is still "to bring Ron home." There is still a feeling that the second part of the deal was "an attempt to throw sand in the eyes of the public over the issue of Ron," he said.

"The three months since the conclusion of the exchange deal - at which point we were supposed to see developments on the issue of Ron - have expired," Harari said. "For two weeks, we deferred demonstrations and protest actions designed to raise the issue and press for the return of Ron, in light of the chief of staff's comments that developments appeared imminent.

"We hope these will be fulfilled, although we don't view the release of Kuntar, a convicted murderer... in return for concrete information about Ron, a good deal.

"The primary concern of the Arad family and the fellowship is to bring Ron home, alive or dead, and that is what we are continuing to press for," said Harari.

The Channel 2 report said other European elements, and those that never had any direct contact with Israel, are involved with the German mediators in the efforts to resolve the Ron Arad issue.

According to the report, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon apparently asked ministers recently not to travel abroad because he intended to raise some issues on the agenda. The report quoted Sharon's aides as saying they had no idea whether this related to Arad or other issues.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement denying the Channel 2 report.

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