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Copyright 1993 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

December 2, 1993



The handing over by the PLO of the IDF identification tag of missing Israeli soldier Zacharia Baumel is "a first significant step," Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said yesterday in Brussels.

"It is concrete evidence that there is a way to uncover further information about [MiAs] Zacharia Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman," Rabin said.

"I regard this as the first part of a process of reaching clear clarification about the future of the three soldiers," who were captured in Lebanon in June 1982.

Baumel's tag was brought to Rabin from Tunisia by his special envoy, Jacques Neriah, and was due to be brought here late last night. The three men have not been heard from since their disappearance during the battle for Sultan Yacoub.

The tag was received broken down the center, which, by IDF convention, indicates the soldier was killed. The tag, however, could have been broken as a ploy by Baumel's captors or by the PLO.

Interviewed on the Mabat news broadcast last night, Yona Baumel, Zacharia's father, demanded the PLO return the second half of the ID tag.

He claimed that in 1984, the PLO had produced a wax copy of the whole tag, proving that the tag, in its entirety, had been in PLO hands. The half-disk being handed over now was meant to mislead, he said.

On Monday, Rabin said he would link any release of Palestinian security prisoners to receipt of information on the MiA's.

Of the three other missing soldiers, navigator Ron Arad, shot down in October 1986, is believed to be alive and in Iranian hands, while Yosef Fink and Rahamim Alsheikh, captured in February 1986, reportedly died, though their bodies were never recovered.

Rabin telephoned Baumel's father, Yona, to inform him that the tag was being forwarded.

"We're more optimistic now than we've been in the past," Baumel told The Jerusalem Post last night.

"The fact that Zacharia's tag will reach us only today is not important. We're not sentimental about things like that. It's not a holy relic. It's as good in the prime minister's hands as in ours."

Dr. Ahmed Tibi, a top adviser to Yasser Arafat, said the PLO head had received a request from Rabin for the tag during their meeting in Cairo.

"The chairman [Arafat] regards this as a humanitarian act of the first order and we are doing everything possible to help with this painful problem," Tibi told Israel Radio.

Baumel, who on Tuesday held a press conference to call for confidence-building measures from the PLO, said:"This is an encouraging first step on the part of the PLO. They must understand that if they continue in this vein, they'll be doing more justice to their Palestinian brethren because there are many more of them waiting to return to their loved ones."

A high-ranking source in a Moslem extremist organization in Lebanon said yesterday that Ron Arad is alive and held by the Iranian or Syrian Intelligence services. In an interview with the French News Agency in Lebanon the source said that the solution to the issue will be found only through close coordination between Syria and Iran.

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