Jerusalem: Israel traded 52 Palestinian
and Lebanese prisoners to the Hezbollah militia in exchange
for the gun of an Israeli airman, who went missing in southern
Lebanon in 1986, a newspaper said on Thursday.
Details of the December 2000 deal were revealed by the
mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, which said it was a
secret part of negotiations to release three soldiers and a
businessman captured in separate incidents that year.
The ArmaLite AR-7 rifle, a light firearm designed to
be used as a survival weapon, was carried by Ron Arad when his
plane went down over southern Lebanon during the Lebanese
"With our hands shaking, we opened the package,
compared the serial number, and when it turned out the numbers
corresponded, we called (Arad`s wife) Tami," one of the
officials involved in the operation told the paper.
Eight years of indirect talks mediated by a German
intelligence official failed to secure Arad`s release and his
whereabouts remains unknown.
After his plane went down, Arad was captured by Amal,
another Shiite movement headed by Nabih Berri, who is now
speaker of the Lebanese parliament.
Two years ago, Hezbollah turned over previously-unseen
photographs and excerpts from a diary Arad kept until 1987 as
part of another prisoner exchange deal.
It also provided a report saying Arad was dead, which
Israel dismissed, vowing to continue the search for him.
Arad has been a cause celebre for decades in Israel,
where bringing home lost or captured soldiers is considered a
Israel has in the past agreed to several deals that
have involved trading hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian
prisoners for captured soldiers and the remains of troops
killed in battle.
Yediot Aharonot said the 52 prisoners were included
in the 2004 prisoner exchange for the four captured Israelis,
which saw Israel release a total of 400 Palestinian prisoners
and dozens more from Lebanon and other Arab states.