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Copyright The Associated Press

December 19, 1989

HEADLINE: Rabin Says He Authorized Meetings Between POW Families, PLO


Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin says he authorized meetings between the families of Israeli soldiers missing in action in Lebanon and PLO leaders in Tunisia.

Negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization have been authorized for the families of three soldiers missing since the battle with Syrian forces at Sultan Yaakoub in eastern Lebanon on June 11, 1982, during Israel's invasion of Lebanon, Rabin said Monday.

"I have allowed the families to meet with the PLO, and to some family members even to travel to Tunisia," Rabin said.

"To get information, family members may hold meetings without any reservations or limitations, and with our financing," Rabin added, speaking to students at Tel Aviv University.

Israel officially considers the PLO to be a terrorist group and refuses to let it participate in the Middle East peace process.

The three soldiers missing since the Sultan Yaakoub battle are Sgt. Zvi Feldman, U.S.-born Sgt. Zachary Baumel and Cpl. Yehuda Katz.

Israel Television and reliable sources said Baumel's father, Yona, traveled to Tunisia twice in January, meeting with senior PLO officials at the organization's headquarters in Tunis. There were no positive results.

Rabin said another Israeli soldier, Samir Assad, who disappeared in 1982 in Lebanon, "was kidnapped and apparently killed."

In 1986, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine offered to exchange Assad's body for 50 captive guerrillas. Israel has turned down the offer.

Two other Israeli soldiers, Yosef Fink and Rachamim Alsheikh, were kidnapped in southern Lebanon in February 1986.

Rabin spoke a day after the wife of an Israeli airman captured three years ago in Lebanon said Israeli authorities told her that her husband, Ron Arad, was still alive and being held by Iranians.

The statement over Israeli radio stations was intended to be a public message to the Iranians "who have control over those who are holding Ron Arad," said Defense Ministry adviser on prisoners of war, Uri Slonim.

Arad, a navigator, was shot down with an F-4 Phantom fighter jet during an Israeli bombing mission in southern Lebanon on Oct. 16, 1986. The plane's pilot was rescued by Israeli troops.

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