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Copyright 1993

December 9, 1993


BYLINE: By Nadim Ladki


A pro-Iranian leader said Thursday Hizbollah was willing to discuss the fate of Israeli servicemen missing in Lebanon with a neutral party but not with the United States.

Hussein Musawi said Hizbollah (Party of God) wanted a solution that would include release of hundreds of Lebanese held by Israel. But it would not cooperate with a U.S. congressional mission seeking information on the six Israelis.

"Why is all the attention on the Israeli soldiers? ... We too have captives, corpses and rights," Musawi told Reuters in an interview.

"He who wants to discuss the missing or others should be neutral ... We will listen to he who will talk about the missing, all the missing, and the captives, all the captives," he added.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher said in Damascus Sunday Syrian President Hafez al-Assad had undertaken to help a congressional team seek the missing men as a humanitarian gesture that could smooth the path to peace with Israel.

"We reject the Americans ... and we reject their committees," Musawi said. "The Americans have nothing to do with humanitarian acts or justice. We saw what they did in Somalia and how they watch Muslims being slaughtered in Bosnia."

Musawi said Hizbollah holds the remains of two of the six Israeli servicemen missing since the 1980s.

Hizbollah has repeatedly offered to hand over the remains in exchange for about 250 Lebanese held by Israel and its client militia the South Lebanon Army.

Musawi said talks with an international humanitarian organization on the possibility of arranging a prisoner exchange had collapsed some time ago and blamed "the other sides."

The captives Israel holds include Hizbollah cleric Sheik Abdul-Karim Obeid, kidnapped in south Lebanon by Israeli forces in 1989.

Only one of the missing Israelis, navigator Ron Arad, is believed to be alive. Senior pro-Iranian sources in Lebanon say Arad, whose plane was shot down over south Lebanon in 1986, is in Syrian hands.

But Musawi said there was no new information on Arad or his whereabouts. "His issue has become more of a riddle recently and his whereabouts are not known," he said without elaborating.

A three-man tank crew has been missing since a battle with Syrian forces in the Bekaa valley in June 1982 during one of Israel's invasions of Lebanon.

They are Sergeant Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman. Last week an adviser to PLO leader Yasser Arafat in Tunis said Arafat had sent Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Baumel's identity tag.

Two other Israelis, Yossi Fink and Rachamim al-Sheikh, were captured by Hizbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon in 1986. They are dead.

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