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Copyright 1991 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

August 30, 1991

HEADLINE: Israel Says Airman Is Hostage of Iranian Guards


Israel's chief hostage negotiator said today that a missing Israeli navigator whose plane was shot down in 1986 is most likely alive and being held by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

But, he said, Israel is still demanding solid information about the navigator, Ron Arad, and six other missing Israelis before it releases any of the Arab prisoners it is holding.

Israel's willingness to release about 375 prisoners being held here and in southern Lebanon is a key for gaining the release of the 10 remaining Western hostages held in Lebanon.

"The last thing we heard is that he's alive and in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards," Uri Lubrani, the chief negotiator, said of Mr. Arad.

Hostage Was Reportedly Sold

"It's from an accumulation of information that has been coming in for some time now, but we need proof -- clear, irrefutable proof that he's alive," he said.

Mr. Arad, whose plane was shot down in south Lebanon, was until recently believed to be in the hands of the Party of God, an Iranian-backed group that operates in Lebanon.

Nabih Berri, the head of the Amal militia in southern Lebanon, said on Wednesday that his group had sold Mr. Arad a few years ago to the Revolutionary Guards for half a million dollars, and that the Israeli was later taken to Teheran. Several thousand of the Iranian soldiers have been operating in Lebanon, training Shiite Muslim militias.

Amal originally captured the Israeli navigator in 1986. Today, Mr. Lubrani said that Israel's latest information confirmed the statement of the Amal militia leader.

'In the Hands of the Iranians'

"It's the first time that Amal made such a statement," said Danny Naveh, a spokesman for Defense Minister Moshe Arens. "Now, it's in the hands of the Iranians to give us real proof and information about Mr. Arad."

In addition, varying reports have recently been circulating about the other missing Israelis. Amal said on Wednesday that it had the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who were captured in 1982 early in the Lebanese war. It did not give their names. Sgt. Zachary Baumel, Sgt. Zvi Feldman and Cpl. Yehuda Katz were all taken in a tank battle.

The Party of God said today that it had two Israeli prisoners of war who were captured in southern Lebanon in 1986, but it would not reveal their identities or if they are alive. Two Israeli soldiers who were captured in an ambush in 1986 are Rahamim Alsheikh and Yossi Fink.

'A Matter of Speculation'

To date, though, no one has offered any proof on the missing Israeli soldiers. Some Israeli officials have mentioned the possibility of a videotape of Mr. Arad and other prisoners of war, or a visit by the International Cross.

"So far, it's all a matter of speculation," said Mr. Lubrani. "This is why we're sticking to our guns and saying we want to know what happened to them."

Israeli officials refused to speculate on the increasing possibility of a prisoner exchange presented by the visit to Teheran scheduled for Sept. 10 by the United Nations Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar.

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