Copyright 2004 Jerusalem Post
HEADLINE: Bone said being tested for Arad DNA
BYLINE: MATTHEW GUTMAN
What could be a bone fragment from missing IAF navigator Lt.-Col. Ron Arad arrived in Israel as early as Thursday, European sources told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
The transfer of a bone fragment believed to be that of Arad, who ejected from his malfunctioning Phantom jet over Lebanon in 1986, could jump-start the stalled prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Hizbullah.
Last week, Minister-without-Portfolio Gideon Ezra said 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 Yakoub in Lebanon have been "reactivated."
The shipment of the bone to Israel via Germany follows reports last week that a "third party in Lebanon," likely referring to Hizbullah, has located what could be a bone fragment from Arad and has transferred it to German mediators in Beirut.
Israel, albeit with little fanfare, has received at least three such bone fragments in recent months.
DNA tests found that none of them matched Arad's genetic code.
Forensic experts tend to prefer a jawbone because its various genetic and dental markers facilitate identification.
It appears that the latest bone fragment to arrive is not a jawbone, and matching it to Arad's DNA, or disqualifying it, could take weeks.
The Prime Minister's Office would not confirm the report, though sources close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that "negotiations are definitely continuing."
After several leaks from Israeli officials almost torpedoed the first round of negotiations between Hizbullah and Israel, Sharon demanded a much more tight-lipped approach from his subordinates.
At the peak of negotiations last November, Germany threatened to abandon its role as mediator, claiming that media leaks by both Hizbullah and Israel jeopardized the talks.
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.
Arabic-language newspapers reported last week that bodies of Arad and the three soldiers - Sgts. Zacharia Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman - missing from the 1982 Sultan Yakoub tank battle in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley are to be repatriated as part of the second stage of the prisoner exchange deal.
According to initial reports of the deal, Israel is expected to release Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese Druse who headed a Palestinian terrorist squad responsible for the murder of four Israelis in a 1979 terrorist attack in Nahariya. As part of the negotiations, Iran would receive information on four diplomats it claims disappeared in the chaos of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Should the negotiations proceed as planned, Germany would release two Iranian operatives responsible for the assassination of four Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant in 1992. France would also release two Iranians connected to a string of assassinations in the 1980s.
The Beirut daily Al-Mustaqbal, owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the bodies of Baumel, Feldman, and Katz would be included in the deal.
Yet Chen Arad, Ron Arad's brother, said Saturday night that he has not been informed of any new developments. "And beyond that, I don't think this second round of negotiations will go anywhere," he said.
The Arad family, which has launched a multi-million shekel private campaign to glean information on the navigator, has criticized the government raising the specter of Ron Arad whenever the Sharon government desired to avert the public's attention.
Chairman of the Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, MK (Likud) Yuval Steinitz, warned against "over-exuberance."
"We've been down this road before," he said, "and generally we end up disappointed."
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