An Israeli citizen who had been held in a Libyan jail for five months was released yesterday following secret negotiations with Libya by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, brokered by Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff.
Rafael Haddad, who also holds Tunisian citizenship, was flown out of Libya in Schlaff's private plane and landed in Vienna last night at around 11 P.M.
Haddad had gone to Libya in March to photograph former Jewish community buildings in Tripoli for a Jewish heritage association. He was arrested and turned over to Libyan intelligence on suspicion of espionage.
A senior official in Jerusalem said Haddad had informed relatives in Tunisia, where he had lived in recent years, of his arrest, and secret negotiations began immediately after the family reported the arrest to the Foreign Ministry.
Italian intelligence was instrumental in Haddad's release after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contacted his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi.
But other channels, including the United States, France and a number of American Jewish organizations, proved fruitless.
Two months ago Lieberman approached Schlaff, who is very close to Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of Libya's ruler Muammar Gadhafi.
A few days after receiving a humanitarian appeal from Lieberman, the Libyans said they would release Haddad if Israel allowed a Libyan aid ship to reach Gaza, which Lieberman refused.
A few weeks later the Libyans announced they were sending the ship. Eventually, following negotiations with Schlaff, Gadhafi's son agreed to anchor the ship in El-Arish, in Egpyt, instead of Gaza.
Schlaff brokered a deal during talks over the ship whereby Israel would allow the aid to be delivered and for Libya to construct 20 buildings for Gaza residents. Lieberman, who had been on a private trip to Moldova, arrived secretly in Vienna yesterday and was on hand with Ambassador Aviv Shiron to meet Haddad at the airport.
Haddad will fly today with Lieberman on an Austrian Airlines flight to Tel Aviv.