ron arad new 224.88.
(photo credit: Channel 1)
After 22 years, two photographs of missing IAF airman Ron Arad, as well as three letters written by him and fragments of a diary, were given to his wife Tami on Sunday.
The personal material was part of an 80-page report by Hizbullah detailing the group's search for Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon and captured alive in 1986. The letters were addressed to Tami and spoke of his love for her and their infant daughter Yuval, said the family's attorney, Eliad Shraga.
While the letters and diary fragments were kept private, the two photographs were released to the public on Sunday.
The report, which did not solve the mystery of what happened to Arad, represents the first stage of a planned prisoner swap that includes the release of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were captured by Hizbullah in July 2006.
The Hizbullah report is merely an updated version of a report it passed to Israel in 2004, defense officials said on Sunday. The new information, aside from the personal documents and photographs from Arad, concern efforts made by Hizbullah to find Arad, including, according to Channel 10, names of people it interrogated who might be able to provide Israel with new leads.
But the conclusion remains the same as the 2004 report, said defense officials: that Arad went missing somewhere between the night of May 4, 1988 and the morning of May 5, and probably died.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that Israel would proceed with the prisoner swap - set for later this week - even though the Hizbullah report failed to explain what had happened to Arad.
Speaking during a security assessment at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Barak said Israel was committed to discovering what had happened to Arad after contact was lost with him in 1988.
The Hizbullah report "did not solve the issue," Barak said.
He also said that despite the disappointment with the report, as a defense minister, a former chief of General Staff and a former military commander, he had a "moral responsibility" to proceed with the deal to return abducted IDF reservists Goldwasser and Regev.
On Sunday, officials from the Mossad, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Military Intelligence met to review the 80-page, Arabic-language document that was forwarded to Israel on Saturday and purports to detail what happened to Arad since he was shot down over Lebanon in October 1986.
Officials said the report did not provide any new information and repeated a previous claim by Hizbullah that Arad had tried to escape when his guards went to fight during Israel's Maydun operation in 1988. Since that night, the report concluded, Arad had not been heard from and was likely dead.
On Tuesday, the cabinet will vote again on the swap after being briefed on the Arad report.
The Arad family, which is of the belief that Hizbullah has more documents from Ron, is demanding that the Islamist organization release all that information, Shraga said. Some of Arad's friends are demanding that the additional documents be released before the deal is implemented.
This is not the first time that material from Arad has surfaced. In October 2007, Tami Arad received a letter written by her husband that was transferred to Israel as part of a swap deal with Hizbullah involving the corpse of Beersheba man Gavriel Daweet, who drowned off Nahariya in 2005 and washed ashore in Lebanon.
At the end of August 2006, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation aired a brief video clip taken of Arad soon after his capture.
When he opened his computer in his office in the Tel Aviv area on Sunday afternoon, Doron Vinikin, a friend of Arad's, wasn't sure what to expect when he searched the Internet news outlets for the two newly released photographs.
In the first, Arad could be seen with an injury to his left shoulder and wearing what looked like pajamas; in the second, he wore a sweatshirt and his left arm appeared to be hurt.
"There was a disconnect between my intellect and my emotions," Vinikin told The Jerusalem Post. "I told myself, they are pictures from 20 years ago, what can it change? But my stomach hurt looking at them. You can see how much he is suffering."
It was particularly striking for him because he remembered his friend as happy and optimistic. It was similar, he said, to the 2006 release of the video.
Each time, he said, you think that there will be nothing more and then additional information is released.
In spite of the demand by Arad's family and friends for more material, the prisoner exchange is expected to proceed.
Barak decided Sunday to postpone a planned trip to the United States until next month due to Tuesday's cabinet vote on the deal.
On Wednesday, Israel will return 200 bodies in exchange for soldiers' body parts held by Hizbullah. Then Regev and Goldwasser will be exchanged for terrorist Samir Kuntar and four Hizbullah fighters caught during the Second Lebanon War.
The Prisons Service confirmed Sunday that five Lebanese prisoners - including Kuntar, who murdered three Israelis and was responsible for the death of a fourth in Nahariya in 1979, would be released on Wednesday.
"The prisoners will be assembled at the Hadarim jail [near Ra'anana], from where the Nahshon Unit of the Israel Prisons Service will take them to a predetermined meeting point. From there, they will be transferred across the border," a Prisons Service spokesman said.
In a statement released on its Internet site, the Prisons Service said that "on 29 June 2008, the government decided to approve the outline of the agreement for the release of the Israeli soldiers held hostage... Samir Kuntar and four illegal Lebanese fighters currently held by Israel will be released to Lebanon. The release will take place on Wednesday."
The other prisoners to be released are Hizbullah members, all captured on August 16, 2006 during the Second Lebanon War.
They have been named as Khader Zidan, Mahar Kurani, Mahmad Sarur, and Hussein Souleiman.
In Jerusalem, Red Cross spokesman Helge Kvam confirmed that Israel had approached his organization about assisting in the upcoming swap with Hizbullah.
Kvam said several technical issues still had to be resolved. The Red Cross needed to interview the Lebanese prisoners to ensure they wanted to return to their country, he said, and to bring in enough trucks, most likely from Jordan, if the sides asked it to transport the prisoners and bodies across the Israel-Lebanese border.
"The ICRC confirms we have been approached by Israeli authorities, and we have informed them that we are ready to act as a neutral intermediary, as the neutral link between Israel and Hizbullah," he said.
"The reason this is important to us is for the families on both sides. It's extremely important that even if they only get mortal remains, they can bury them according them to their traditions and religions."
Also Sunday, Regev's and Goldwasser's friends from their reserve battalion were called up for reserve duty.
"In a few days, the nightmare will come to an end," one of the soldiers said. "These have been two very difficult years and we are waiting for them to come home, and we are very excited that the swap is so close."
AP contributed to this report.
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