Ron arad with baby 224.8.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Israel knows that kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit is alive, but does not know about the fate of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a group of French journalists in Paris Monday, amid swirling rumors of an impending swap for Goldwasser and Regev that may include the release from an Israeli jail of the Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar.
In an apparent reference to last week's swap of a Hizbullah prisoner and the bodies of two Hizbullah fighters for the body of Gavriel Daweet, Olmert said "we started the process and we will continue."
Olmert, at an earlier briefing with Israeli reporters, confirmed that Israel obtained a two-decade-old letter written in captivity by missing IAF navigator Ron Arad as part of a recent prisoner swap with Hizbullah.
He said, however, that he regretted the existence of the letter was published in Yediot Aharonot. on Monday, saying that this hurt the family.
The lengthy letter was written by Arad to his wife, Tami, not long after his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, and was accompanied by a photograph, according to the Yediot Aharonot report.
"The letter received from Ron was very touching," Olmert said during a visit to the Rabin Park in Paris, where a protest display was erected with pictures of Regev, Goldwasser and Schalit.
Olmert, however, would not elaborate on the details of the letter, saying that "naturally, it could impede efforts [to release the MIAs]." The prime minister went on to say that Israel should show restraint in matters pertaining to Arad.
"Considering the sensitivity of the issue, I will not be speaking about it at length," he said. "I will only say that I am aware that this letter was received. We are doing the absolute utmost, and will continue to do the utmost in order to bring the kidnapped [soldiers] and MIAs home."
In the letter, which was likely written shortly after his capture, the IAF navigator reportedly describes his deep affection for his wife and their daughter, Yuval.
According to the Yediot report, Tami Arad was summoned to the Defense Ministry after last week's exchange with Hizbullah and she was given the letter.
She recognized the handwriting and the pet names her husband called her by. After reading the letter, she "fell apart," the paper reported, quoting unnamed eyewitnesses.
Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said last year that he believed Arad was dead. But Israel has said it is working under the assumption he is alive and will continue the search until it has proof to the contrary.
Talks on a prisoner swap to bring Regev and Goldwasser home have not yielded any results.
But after last week's UN-mediated exchange, Nasrallah said there had been "positive progress" in negotiations.
AP contributed to this report