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Copyright 1994 Jerusalem Post
Jerusalem Post

January 12, 1994


BYLINE: Alon Pinkas and David Rudge

The US congressional delegation investigating the fate of three IDF soldiers missing in action since the Sultan Yaakub battle in June 1982 returned from Lebanon yesterday and briefed IDF officers on their findings.

The American team, dispatched to the area after Syria promised the US to assist in finding any clue leading to new information, reportedly brought back with them soil samples from a village near Sultan Yaakub, where they visited.

Local villagers apparently said that in 1982, Palestinians in the area boasted that they "recently buried three Israeli bodies". The army would not comment on the briefing.

The delegation also met with the families of the three soldiers. Israel Radio reported that they told the families that they were receiving the full cooperation of both Syria and Lebanon, and hoped that in a few weeks they would get some concrete results.

However, Amal leader Nabih Berri said yesterday that he would refuse to meet the US congressional team.

"Out of respect for American law that bans US citizens from visiting Lebanon, I can't meet these people," Berri, also speaker of the Lebanese parliament, was quoted as saying on Lebanese radio stations.

Hizbullah has made it clear on several occasions that it is prepared to discuss the whole prisoners and MiA issue with "international and humanitarian organizations," but not with the US which it described as overtly pro-Israeli.

A Hizbullah leader, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, was quoted by newspapers yesterday as saying that if all the MiAs, and especially Ron Arad, were in Hizbullah hands "the matter would have taken a different course."

"But we have said all along that we know nothing about Arad. We have two Israeli soldiers in our hands and the conditions for their release are known to all concerned," Kaouk was quoted as saying.

Kaouk maintained that Syria had not put any pressure on Hizbullah to meet the US congressional team, despite the recent visit to Damascus by Hizbullah secretary-general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah which coincided with the arrival of the Americans in the Syrian capital.

In their editorials, several Lebanese newspapers mocked the US humanitarian mission, describing the congressional team's fact-finding visit to the area as a "charade."

The newspapers, including those known to be pro-Syrian, have accused the US of ignoring Lebanese being held by Israel.

Some politicians, echoing the general feeling, were reported to have called on the Lebanese government to refuse to have anything to do with the US mission.

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