Hizbollah, Israel Embark on Psychological Warfare over Fate of Captured Soldiers
Shortly after Israel announced Tuesday that three soldiers captured last year by Hizbollah were likely dead, the Lebanese resistance movement dismissed the announcement as a "failed Israeli attempt to obtain information.”
"The Zionists are wasting time so as to avoid paying the price," said a Hizbollah statement read on Al Manar television in Lebanon.
For his part, Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said: "The announcement that the Israeli army has definite information about the fate of the soldiers detained by Hizbollah is a failed campaign to obtain information about these prisoners by provoking a Hizbollah reaction."
Even familes of the soldiers, who were seized in the occupied Shabaa Farms last year, said that they were caught in psychological warfare between Israel and the movement, which spearheaded its expulsion from the occupied zone in south Lebanon in May 2000.
Eyal Avitan, the brother of one of the POWs, Adi Avitan, told Army Radio that his family was relating to the army announcement as part of the ongoing psychological war between Israel and Hizbollah.
"I see this thing as an attempt, perhaps, as Nasrallah has said, to try and get more information out of him. We are in the middle, and we are being hurt both by Hizbollah and by our own country."
The commander of the Israeli army's manpower division, Major General Gil Regev, had announced at the press conference that the army's new assessment was that the three soldiers had probably been killed while being captured.
The reversal in the army’s position regarding the condition of the three was the result of new information reaching military intelligence more than two weeks ago, according to Haaretz newspaper.
Regev said there was a "very high probability" that the three soldiers were dead. He promised the army would continue to collect information about the soldiers and return them to their families.
He told a press conference Monday night in Tel Aviv that if the army was not convinced the soldiers were dead, "we wouldn't be going to the rabbi."
Separately, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was not aware of the death of the three soldiers.
The organization's chief in Lebanon, Henry Fournier, told AFP: "The ICRC does not know of the death of these soldiers. Just as it has done since the day of their capture, the ICRC will continue to demand access to the soldiers from Hizbollah, as provided by international humanitarian law."
Israel seized the mountainous Shabaa Farms region from Syria during the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. It is now claimed by Beirut, which says the farms were “given’ to Lebanon by Syria.
The army chaplain, Brigadier General Rabbi Weiss, will consult Tuesday with halakhic experts - including Chief Rabbis Yisrael Lau and Eliahu Bakshi-Doron - as well as Muslim religious leaders, in an effort to make a final determination regarding the fate of the soldiers.
Weiss, with the help of the chief rabbis, will make the decision on whether to declare the three soldiers - First Sergeants Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Suwad - who were captured by Hizbollah a year ago "casualties (of war) whose burial place is unknown."
Because Suwad is a Bedouin and a Muslim, Islamic religious leaders will also be consulted.
Lau was quoted by the Tel-Aviv based daily as saying Tuesday that there were three possibilities regarding how the rabbis might rule - that they would accept the new information as definitive, or that they would reject it, or that they would decide to wait until there was more information.
Radio Monte Carlo reported Tuesday that a senior German mediator was in Beirut trying to obtain more details on the fate of the three soldiers.
According to Haaretz, senior security sources said Monday night that at the beginning of this week, new information that had been matched with a Beirut source had confirmed the earlier reports that suggested the soldiers were no longer alive.
Regev warned that Israel was considering the possibility that Hizbollah would try to use its own psychological warfare on the families of the hostages, to persuade them that the three were alive. "We assume, and we told this to the parents, that Hizbollah will try to do everything possible to say the opposite, and may even try to support its statements with imaginary photographs," he said – Albawaba.com
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