Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: Sources: Ron Arad bone fragment may be sent to Israel
BYLINE: MATTHEW GUTMAN
What could be a bone fragment from missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad could be on its way to Israel today, European sources told the Jerusalem Post Thursday.
Israel yesterday confirmed that the German-mediated negotiations with Hizbullah for the repatriation of the bodies of Arad and three soldiers missing from the 1982 battle of Sultan Yaqub in Lebanon, have been "reactivated."
The shipment of the bone to Israel via Germany follows reports over the weekend that a "third party in Lebanon," has located what could be a bone fragment from Arad and has transferred it to mediators in Beirut.
Israel, albeit with little fanfare, has received at least three such "parcels". DNA tests found that none of them matched Arad's genetic code, or dental records. Forensic experts tend to prefer a jawbone, because its various genetic and dental markers facilitate identification.
Germany has refused to conduct the bone testing in Berlin, arguing that as a mediator it should play only the role of a facilitator of negotiations.
The Prime Minister's Office would not confirm the report.
Arabic-language newspapers reported on Wednesday that bodies of missing IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad and the three soldiers missing from the 1982 Sultan Yacoub battle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley are to be repatriated as part of the second stage of the prisoner exchange deal.
Arad has been missing since ejecting from his malfunctioning Phantom over Lebanon in October 1986.
In return, Israel is expected to release Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese Druse who headed a Palestinian terror squad responsible for the murder of Danny Haran, 28, his daughters Einat, four, and Yael, two, and policeman Eliahu Shahar in a 1979 terrorist attack in Nahariya.
The Beirut daily Al-Mustaqbal, owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the bodies of Zacharia Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz would be included in the deal.
European sources said over the weekend that "a third party [Hizbullah] would soon send a bone fragment from Ron Arad" to Israel through European mediators. The reports are still unconfirmed as Israeli, Hizbullah, and European mediators have essayed to keep leaks at a minimum.
Indicating that mediators might be close to reaching an agreement, Minister-without-Portfolio Gideon Ezra told the Knesset Wednesday of "renewed activity in the matter of Ron Arad," adding that secret negotiations continue. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had briefed Ezra earlier in the day.
Yet Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, doubted that the missing soldiers' families would see any major breakthrough soon. "These things take a lot of time to come to fruition, and there is no reason to get excited yet," he said.
Arad, or his body, is believed to have been transported from Lebanon to Iran in 1989.
In exchange for the four bodies, Israel is also expected to release Israeli Arab, Palestinian, and Syrian detainees, and France will free George Abdallah, a member of the Lebanese Revolutionary Factions, according to the reports.
Abdallah was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to life in connection with attacks in Paris in which Israeli Embassy official Ya'acov Bar-Simantov and a US attache were killed.
His group was later reported to be behind a wave of attacks in Paris aimed at pressing the French authorities to release him, in which 15 people were killed. A French court recently rejected a pardon appeal.
The Arabic press said that as part of the deal, Germany would also free Lebanese and Iranian prisoners and that Israel was also expected to supply information about four Iranians missing since the Lebanon war.
According to Al-Mustaqbal, Hizbullah managed to obtain information regarding Arad and the missing soldiers from Palestinian and Lebanese sources. It also hinted, however, that two regional countries, apparently a reference to Iran and Syria, had played a role in the process, in addition to European mediators.
There has been growing media speculation about impending developments in the second phase of the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbullah that was due to be implemented three months after the completion of the first stage.
Businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum, who had been held captive by Hizbullah for more than three years, was returned on January 29 along with the bodies of St.-Sgts. Benny Avraham, Omar Sawayid, and Adi Avitan, who were kidnapped in a Hizbullah ambush in the Mount Dov region in October 2000.
In exchange, Israel released more than 400 Palestinian prisoners and 29 Lebanese and Arab nationals and also returned to Lebanon the bodies of 60 gunmen, mainly from Hizbullah.
The government refused to include Kuntar in the first phase, and the German negotiating team, headed by Ernest Uhrlau, suggested a second stage that would include information on Arad and the release of Kuntar.
Israel has also consistently refused to include Israeli Arabs and Golan Heights Druse, jailed for security offenses, in any exchange.
According to reports, however, Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is also expected to press for them to be freed in the second phase.
Israeli officials have been keeping tight-lipped amid the welter of reports about the alleged terms of the second stage and especially on Arad.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a report carried by Channel 1 on Tuesday night, said Israel had gone in different directions that had never been tried before in efforts to get information about the missing airman.
"Until now we don't have any additional information... neither positive nor negative at the moment," said Sharon, who noted that experience had taught that it was best to deal with such matters quietly.
Yoske Harari, head of the Fellowship for Ron Arad's Release, said neither the organization or Arad's family had been informed of any new details regarding his fate and whereabouts.
But Chen Arad, his brother, condemned what he called the government's toying with the family. "Each and every time there's a political crisis in Israel, they wheel out Ron," he told Army Radio.
The fellowship is demanding that any deal with Hizbullah bring about his release and return.
Arad was held by former Amal security chief Mustafa Dirani who allegedly sold him to Iran.
Dirani was later snatched from Lebanon and brought to Israel. Despite efforts by Arad's family to block his release, Dirani was among those freed in the first phase of the exchange deal.
David Rudge contributed to this report
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