Hostage trade involving Iran, Israel jeopardized

July 08, 1991|By Newsday

A complicated deal to trade hostages, including 13 Westerners, held throughout the Middle East is bogged down in a dispute between Israel and Iran over the fate of Israeli navigator Ron Arad, who was shot down in 1986 over Lebanon, say knowledgeable sources from a number of countries.

Israel will not go forward with negotiations on the package deal until the International Committee for the Red Cross is allowed to visit Arad and six other missing Israeli servicemen, or is shown proof they are dead, says an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman.

At stake is the freedom of 13 Westerners and seven Israelis who have disappeared in Lebanon, and hundreds of Lebanese Shiites held in Israel or in the Khiam prison in southern Lebanon by the Israeli-controlled South Lebanon Army.

Iran says a Lebanese Christian group holds four Iranian nationals taken hostage in 1982, but they are rarely mentioned except by Tehran. The United States has said it thinks the four are dead.

The fate of Arad, however, seems to be the major sticking point. Sometime after his F-4 Phantom jet was shot down over Lebanon, he was transferred to the custody of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Israeli officials and Arad's wife, Tamar, first said about two years ago. They say he may be in either Syria or Iran but Iran denies any knowledge of Arad.

However, Hezbollah, or the Party of God, the Iranian-influenced Lebanese Shiite fundamentalist group, has given recent signs it is willing to discuss two other Israeli servicemen, or their remains, which it is thought to hold.

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