Hezbollah hands report on Ron Arad over to Israel
Daughter of missing airman says 'you can't declare him dead without info'; prisoner swap set for next week.
Hezbollah handed over to Israel on Saturday the report it has compiled on efforts to reveal the fate of missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, who was captured in Lebanon in 1986.
Security sources said that the report, which was brought to Israel by the German mediator Gerhard Konrad, does not address two major issues: the fate of Arad, whom Hezbollah believe is dead, and why his body has not been found.
Later Saturday or on Sunday Hezbollah is expected to provide supplementary information, including clarifications and answers to questions submitted by Israel.
The 80-page report, details Hezbollah's efforts to solve the mystery of Arad's disappearance in May 1988, a year and a half after his capture by militants of the Lebanese Shi'ite Amal organization.
The report includes interviews Hezbollah conducted with several people who might have had some bearing on Arad's disappearance.
Upon arriving in Israel, the report was sent to be reviewed by Military Intelligence, Mossad and the Shin Bet security service, and was later to be passed on to Ilan Biran of the Prime Minister's Bureau.
In a rare television interview on Friday, Arad's daughter said "you can't declare someone dead just because there is no information."
Yuval Arad, who was several months old when her father went missing, told Channel 10 that "all I've been told is that they're still looking."
In exchange for the report, Israel is to release a report on an Iranian journalist and three Iranian diplomats who were arrested by Israel's Christian Phalangist allies during the first Lebanon War and apparently executed following interrogations.
Israeli negotiator Ofer Dekel has been to Europe several times in recent weeks in connection to the report. He is expected to travel to the continent again this weekend.
Yuval Arad also criticized the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv for publishing an investigative report on the efforts to trace her father's whereabouts, under the headline "all options have been exhausted."
"I could not look at my father's picture, because I was offended on his and the country's behalf, and completely and utterly hurt," she said.
Meanwhile, the prisoner exchange with Hezbollah is set to take place Wednesday or Thursday, at the Rosh Hanikra Israel-Lebanon border crossing, barring any last-minute changes.
Next week Israel will issue an official announcement on the plans to release Samir Kuntar and four Hezbollah militants held in Israel, in order to let those opposed to the exchange petition the High Court of Justice.
The report on Arad will be examined by Israeli intelligence officials before it is presented to the cabinet early next week, ahead of Tuesday's final vote on the exchange. Intelligence officials will present their opinions on the report to the cabinet.
One possible obstacle to the cabinet's approval is the terms of the current deal, which go against promises the state made to Arad's family when it redeemed Elhanan Tenenbaum in 2004 - not to release Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar without also obtaining substantive information about Arad's fate.
At present, the cabinet seems set to give the deal final approval. One minister said he believes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is submitting the deal to a second cabinet vote so that all the ministers will be responsible for violating the government's promises to the Arads.
If the cabinet approves the deal, the exchange will take place either Wednesday or Thursday. Israeli officials want the exchange to be a relatively low-key affair, despite the considerable media interest in the event. If the soldiers are dead, they will be given standard military funerals next Friday, not state funerals.
Meanwhile, at the cemetery for enemy combatants at the Galilee kibbutz of Amiad, the military rabbinate is finishing exhuming the remains of some 200 militants from Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations. They will be sent to Lebanon as part of the exchange.
"The effort to return the abductees should not be delayed or halted because we are forced to deal with Hezbollah's constant tricks," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday. "I hope that very soon we shall see the end of the fight to return the soldiers."