Israeli Army Rabbi Declares Soldiers Captured by Hizbollah ‘Dead’
The chief rabbi of the Israel army, Brigadier General Yisrael Weiss, declared Friday morning that Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Souad, the three Israeli soldiers captured by Hizbollah in October of last year, were no longer alive, reported the Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper.
The rabbi said in a statement that he had based his decision on intelligence reports and after consultations with a number of colleagues. Army officers relayed the decision to the soldiers' families, and in the coming hours, Weiss himself will visit the families.
The commander of the Israeli army's manpower division, Major General Gil Regev, had announced at a 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, reported the paper.
Regev earlier told a press conference in Tel Aviv that if the army was not convinced the soldiers were dead, "we wouldn't be going to the rabbi."
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."
The soldiers were captured while occupying the Shabaa Farms area.
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.
When the news was released earlier that the army was approaching the rabbis for their decision, 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 families of the soldiers said that they were caught in psychological warfare between Israel and the movement, which spearheaded the Israeli army's 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." – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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