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Copyright 1996 Daily News, L.P.
Daily News (New York)

October 24, 1996, Thursday



IT IS NOW exactly 10 years since Ron Arad, a young Israeli Air Force captain, was shot down over Lebanon and captured by a local Muslim militia. It is past time for his whereabouts to be revealed and his release secured.

At first, the Muslim militia, Amal, admitted it had him prisoner. It even allowed photographs and three letters written by Arad to be sent to his family in Israel through the Red Cross. Then he was traded to another extremist group, one more closely linked to Iran. Finally, in 1988, he was "given" to units of Iran's Lebanese-based Revolutionary Guards. A veil of silence fell over his fate, despite appeals from his wife, Tami; his daughter Yuval, born shortly after he was captured, and thousands of friends and supporters. Neither the extremist groups or Lebanese authorities or Iran and Syria, which control most everything in Lebanon, has acknowledged anything more about Arad not even whether he is dead or alive.

But those who love him have never given up hope. Last week, Arad's mother, Batya, and his two younger brothers, Chen and David Arad, were in New York seeking information about him at the United Nations. "We met with Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali," Chen Arad told me. "He promised to help. . . . We won't give up. We will continue to raise awareness of Ron's plight."

Chen and his brother also tried to meet with the Iranian ambassador to the UN but to no avail. The diplomat turned his back on them.

Terry Anderson, the American correspondent who spent 2,455 days as a hostage in Lebanon, also is appealing for news of Arad. "This is a humanitarian issue," said Anderson.

It is also a question of political decency and international law. Iran's refusal to confirm that Arad is or was in their hands, or to allow the Red Cross to visit him, is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners.

Arad is not Israel's only MIA. Three other young soldiers Sgt. Zachary Baumel, Staff Sgt. Zvi Feldman and Sgt. Yehuda Katz have been missing since a 1982 tank battle between Syrian and Israeli army units in southern Lebanon.

Syrian authorities claim they know nothing of them. But the very day of their battle, The Associate Press reported that a "victory parade" in Damascus featured a captured Israeli tank and its crew. Despite years of searches and appeals including some from the White House and monumental efforts by Israel, no conclusive information has ever emerged about these three (although some members of the Coalition for Missing Israeli Soldiers, a New York-based group, question whether Jerusalem has been completely forthcoming).

I myself have raised questions in Damascus several times. At one point, Ahmed Jibril, the Syrian-based leader of a Palestinian terrorist group implicated in the downing of Pan Am 103, boasted to me that he had information about Baumel and his colleagues. He may have been bluffing. But someone does know what happened to these men. Just three years ago, after some intense pressure from Washington, half of Baumel's dog tag was delivered to his parents by Yasser Arafat. Where did he get it?

The people who know the whereabouts of Arad and the other Israeli MIAs must reveal them. Cardinal O'Connor told a meeting of Arad supporters: "I demand answers." Others should, too. Concerned New Yorkers should shower the Iranian and Syrian UN missions with humanitarian pleas: Return Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel and the other Israeli MIAs to their families.

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