Secretary-general pledges to help release abducted soldiers

Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, said after the meeting that Annan hadn't given them any new information.

kofi annan 88 ap (photo credit: )
kofi annan 88 ap
(photo credit: )
The families of the three captive IDF soldiers said Tuesday that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had promised in a meeting at a Jerusalem hotel that he would work to secure their release. Annan met Tuesday night with the relatives of the reservists kidnapped by Hizbullah on July 12 - Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - and the family of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured June 25 when Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip attacked an IDF post at Kerem Shalom. Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, said after the meeting that Annan hadn't given them any new information about their loved ones. "But the good news was that we got a personal pledge from the secretary-general of the UN that he accepts the mission to get the three kidnapped soldiers home, and that's a really big thing," she said. The relatives said they had received lip service from many international officials about efforts to free the men. "We asked him to be the one to start turning words into deeds and bring about their return home, all three," Karnit Goldwasser said. "He spoke to Lebanese cabinet ministers from Hizbullah and asked them to help him." The families also appealed for word on the soldiers' conditions. "The UN decided that Lebanon and the Lebanese government and Hizbullah must release the soldiers without any conditions. This was the resolution. We expect him to act toward achieving it," Regev's brother, Benny, told reporters following the meeting in Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel. "But he must first of all give us a sign of life. [Annan] must act toward that. It's a moral demand that's basic in any negotiations." "We don't want to arrive at a situation where 20 years from now we will get a short piece of film," Benny Regev continued, referring to pictures and video footage of Ron Arad aired on Lebanese television as a promotion for a documentary about Hizbullah to be aired later this week. The pictures were purported to be the most recent of the missing aviator since his plane went down in Lebanon in 1986. They also said they wanted Annan to back down from his demand that Israel lift its blockade of Lebanon, for fear that an end to the siege would allow Hizbullah to move its captives out of Lebanon. The government has ruled out negotiations or a prisoner swap to secure the soldiers' release, but Goldwasser's mother, Miki, said she would be open to talks and a prisoner exchange. Annan met privately with members from each of the three soldiers' families and promised to do everything possible to secure the speedy release of their loved ones. "I knew that a sensitive man stood before me, one who looked me in the eyes as I told him about the sleepless nights," said Regev's mother. "I think we were successful in that we were able to touch the man's soul." The families stressed that they were "one big family," and that any prisoner exchange must include all the soldiers being held. Goldwasser's family said they hoped Annan would wield his influence to pressure Hizbullah on the issue. They said that at the very least, Annan could secure the transfer of the soldiers to the International Red Cross or the Lebanese government. "He [Annan] promised - a personal promise - that he will do everything he can to bring my husband home," said Karnit Goldwasser. "But it is not enough to promise. We want to see action, not only to hear nice words." The families gave the secretary-general pictures of the soldiers, and asked that he keep them on his desk as a constant reminder. "I mentioned to the secretary-general that we have the disadvantage of not having [UN resolution] 1701 behind us," said Noam Shalit following the meeting. "But we asked that he use his influence and high position during his visit to Damascus, because we feel the key to Gilad's release is in Damascus." Israel's UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman said the meeting between Annan and the families carried important symbolism. "I hope that he will leave here with a real feeling of obligation, of a moral mission to do everything he can - and he is going to several capitals in which there is influence on this matter - to bring about Udi, Eldad and Gilad's speedy return home," Gillerman told reporters. Benny Regev said Hizbullah had refused to pass on letters and pictures to the two captured reservists. A request to allow the Red Cross to inspect the condition of the captives was also denied. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Tuesday that the release of Shalit could lead to renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. "The key is the release of Shalit and a stop to the Kassam rocket attacks," Peretz said during a high-level security strategy meeting. Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.