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Copyright 1991
The Associated Press

August 31, 1991

HEADLINE: Tehran Denies Israeli Pilot Held In Iran

BYLINE: By MONA ZIADE, Associated Press Writer


Iran on Saturday denied reports that it is holding one of at least seven missing Israeli servicemen whose fate is linked to the release of Western hostages in Lebanon.

The Islamic Republic News Agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the allegation that Israeli navigator Ron Arad was being held in Iran "is a rumor spread by certain Zionist circles."

Iran "has no information about the fate of the Israeli pilot," the unidentified spokesman said in an English-language statement carried by IRNA.

In Jerusalem, the head of Israel's Government Press Office discounted Iran's claim that it knows nothing about Arad's whereabouts.

"We have all the reasons in the world to believe that he was transferred to the Iranians and is being held by the Iranians, and we expect him to be alive and well," said the official, Yossi Olmert. The mystery surrounding the missing Israelis is a major stumbling block in United Nations-sponsored efforts to arrange the swap of Western captives for Arab prisoners held by Israel.

Arad was captured after his plane was shot down in south Lebanon on Oct. 16, 1986. He was intially held by Mustafa Dirani, then the security chief of the Shiite Muslim Amal faction.

Amal leaders claim that when Dirani was ousted in 1988, he took the Israeli prisoner with him to east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where Arad was sold to Iranian Revolutionary Guards for $ 500,000.

A spokesman for Amal said this week that Arad has since been smuggled to Iran via Syria, and that he was probably still alive.

U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar is trying to mediate the swap of the Western hostages for Arab prisoners held by Israel and its militia allies in south Lebanon. The U.N. chief is scheduled to visit Iran on Sept. 10.

Israel has said it would free about 375 Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the Israeli servicemen and the 11 Westerners held hostage in Lebanon. The longest held is Terry Anderson, the chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press, who was captured March 16, 1985.

Before any exchange, however, Israel wants reliable information about how many of its men are still alive.

Most of the Westerners are believed held by Shiite kidnappers operating under the umbrella of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Party of God.

Hezbollah has admitted it holds two Israelis, Pvts. Yossi Fink and Rahamim Alsheikh, captured in south Lebanon on Feb. 17, 1986.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine has said it has the body of Sgt. Samir Assad, captured in April 1983.

Sgts. Zachary Baumel and Zvi Feldman and Cpl. Yehuda Katz disappeared June 11, 1982, on the sixth day of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in a tank battle with the Syrian army near the Bekaa Valley village of Sultan Yacoub.

Ahmed Jibril, a Syrian-based Palestinian leader, claims these three men are dead.

Lebanese Shiite leader Nabih Berri said his Amal militia has the bodies of two Israelis. Although Amal has not identified the men it claims are dead, it has said they are not among the seven listed by Israel.

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