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Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
May 5

HEADLINE: Chen Arad: Use of Ron is political cynicism


"The cynicism of Israeli leaders has crossed all boundaries," said captured airman Ron Arad's brother to Army Radio Wednesday morning. "Every time there is some kind of political problem, they pull Ron out of the moth balls, and now, during his birthday, this is especially hurtful."

Chen Arad said there was no new information on his brother in spite of recent publications to the contrary.

According to a report in the Lebanese Al-Mustakbal newspaper Wednesday, the second phase of the Hizbullah prisoner exchange is underway, and in return for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers missing from the 1982 Sultan Yakoub battle during the Lebanese war and information on Arad, Israel will release Haran family murderer Samir Kuntar and other terrorists.

Moreover, France will reportedly release George Abdullah, who was involved in the murder of Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov in 1982 and other diplomats.

Hizbullah - according to the Lebanese paper - obtained information on Arad and the other soldiers through negotiations with "Lebanese and Palestinian figures." The paper hints at Syrian and Iranian involvement by saying that in addition to the European countries who have been mediating the deal, "two regional countries have continued to fill an influential role in the process."

Labor party chairman and former prime minister Shimon Peres told Army Radio that he cannot explain the lack of information on Arad, but says Israel has done all it can over the years to find information on the missing Israeli airman.

Arad family lawyer Eliad Saguy on Tuesday called the allegation that there is new information on Ron Arad a government hoax.

Security officials confirmed Tuesday that secret contacts between sides related to the second phase of the Hizbullah prisoner exchange had picked up speed, but stress that there has been no breakthrough. These sources indicate that the government would not be discussing Kuntar's release in the near future.

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 might 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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