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The Associated Press

October 20, 1991

HEADLINE: Israel Says It Received Information on Missing Soldier

BYLINE: By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writer


Israel said Saturday it has received solid information that one of its five servicemen missing in Lebanon was dead, a potential breakthrough in efforts to gain the release of Western hostages in Lebanon.

The hostage-takers have said they would be willing to swap the nine Westerners for up to 300 Shiites held by Israel and its proxy army in Lebanon. Israel has said it wants word on its missing soldiers before releasing the Shiites.

The development came a day after Shiite kidnappers insisted that Israel free more Arab prisoners, at the same time offering to let the family of an American hostage visit him.

The Defense Ministry disclosed Saturday that it had been told in recent days that soldier Yossi Fink was dead. Lebanese guerrillas captured Fink and serviceman Rahamim Alsheikh in 1986.

After Israel received proof that Alsheikh was dead, it freed 51 prisoners and returned the bodies of nine guerrillas on Sept. 11.

On Sept. 13, the body of Sgt. Samir Assad, an Israeli soldier kidnapped in Lebanon in 1983, was returned to the Jewish state.

Two weeks later, British hostage Jack Mann was freed despite claims by some Shiite leaders that Israel had not done enough to warrant the release of another Westerner.

But Israel countered that they had not received sufficient information about Fink. Uri Lubrani, Israel's chief hostage negotiator, said earlier this month that no more Arab detainees would be released until that information came.

With Saturday's announcement, it would appear the next move would be up to Israel in the delicate, step-by-step swap of prisoners and hostages being overseen by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

In its statement, the Defense Ministry said Israel would give Perez de Cuellar the "maximum assistance needed" to make further progress in his efforts. This appeared to suggest that more Arab detainees could be released to keep the momentum going.

Two liberal newspapers quoted sources Sunday as saying that Israel will make such a gesture. The Al Hamishmar daily quoted unnamed military sources as saying Israel will free more Shiites, while the well-respected daily Davar quoted an unnamed source involved in the negotiations as saying says Israel will release the bodies of fundamentalist Hezbollah members.

The ministry said that "findings were transferred to Jerusalem concerning the fate" of Fink. The information came after information given to Israel that "previously did not make it possible to determine his fate unequivocally."

Shiite extremists in Lebanon hold five Americans, a Briton, two Germans and an Italian.

The British-born Fink and Alsheikh, an Israeli native, were captured while patrolling in the buffer zone that Israel controls in southern Lebanon. Both were reported to be seriously wounded.

Israel is reasonably confident that air navigator Ron Arad, shot down over Lebanon in 1986, is alive and held by an Iranian-controlled group. It also wants information on Sgt. Zachary Baumel, Sgt. Zvi Feldman and Cpl. Yehuda Katz, who disappeared in a tank battle with Syrians during the 1982 invasion.

On Friday, the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine offered the wife and daughter of Jesse Turner a chance to visit the educator, who was kidnapped Jan. 24, 1987.

The group also urged "humanitarian organizations to carry out their duties toward the prisoners in Zionist jails, where they are subjected to severe torture."

The statements coincided with a U.S.-Soviet announcement that a Middle East peace conference will convene Oct. 30, when world pressures for Israeli concessions will be acute.

The invitation to Turner's family was the first declared intention by the kidnappers to arrange a meeting between a Western hostage and his family since the late French captive Michel Seurat was escorted to a meeting with his wife, Mary, at their apartment in Beirut Aug. 30, 1985.

The captors said March 5, 1986, that it had "executed" Seurat, but a fellow hostage said later that Seurat had died of hepatitis.

A separate group, called simply Islamic Jihad, or Holy War, issued a statement earlier Friday denying it sought guarantees of personal safety for its members if all the Westerners are freed.

It also released a photo of hostage Terry Anderson, 43, chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press. Kidnapped March 16, 1985, he is the longest-held among the missing Westerners.

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