Thursday, December 16, 1999
A.G. favors returning Lebanese hostagesBy Aviva Lavie, Ha'aretz
Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein believes the time has come for Israel to return the 21 Lebanese citizens held here over the years in the hope that they could be exchanged for missing navigator Ron Arad.
Between 1986 and 1994, Israel arrested the Lebanese, including two relatively famous hostages, Mustafa Dirani, who at one point held Arad as a prisoner, and Sheikh Abd el Karim Obeid. They are sharing a cell in a secret location in Israel while the rest of the hostages are at Ramle Prison.
Several of them were juveniles at the time of their arrest by Israeli forces. Two were under the age of 16 when they were grabbed from their homes. Some were tried and convicted for membership in the Hezbollah and were sentenced to terms ranging from a year and a half to four and a half years, but when their sentences were over, courts extended their prison stays. The others were never put on trial. None of them have "blood on their hands" or even took part in violent actions against Israel. The most veteran hostage has been held for 13 years.
No organization has ever demanded them back and that fact, combined with the amount of time that has passed since Arad disappeared in Lebanon, has created a controversy inside the security and legal establishments. Last July, Shin Bet Chief Ami Ayalon told a closed forum of state attorneys that he doesn't believe holding 19 of them as administrative detainees as a bargaining chip for prisoners of war or hostages "has contributed or will contribute anything." Ayalon also noted that holding them is not only immoral, but useless.
Recently Rubinstein has taken up the issue, suggesting that if they cannot
be released all at once, they could be released gradually.
(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved