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Daughter of Missing Israeli Airman Accuses Sharon of 'Abandonment' - 2003-11-07


The daughter of a missing Israeli airman has made an emotional plea to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to release Lebanese prisoners before first determining the fate of her father. Her appeal comes as the Israeli Cabinet prepares to meet Sunday to decide on a proposed exchange of prisoners with the militant Islamic group, Hezbollah.

Yuval Arad was an infant when her father, Ron, an Israeli air force captain, was captured in Lebanon in 1986, after his plane was shot down.

She accuses Mr. Sharon of abandoning her father by pushing the Cabinet to approve a deal in a vote due on Sunday that would exclude any hope of determining the whereabouts of Captain Arad.

Under the proposal, Israel would set free about 400 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners - including two guerrilla leaders - in exchange for kidnapped Israeli businessman Elhanan Tannebaum and the bodies of three soldiers being held by the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Mr. Sharon says he is willing to accept the offer, and to reject it could mean risking having Mr. Tannebaum put to death by the Hezbollah.

The proposed deal, drawn up with the help of German mediators, does not include any information about Captain Arad.

In a letter to Mr. Sharon, published in Israeli newspapers on Friday, Yuval Arad says that she will lose her long-held hope of ever meeting her father, if the Cabinet approves the deal.

Captain Arad's family says the Cabinet should oppose such an exchange, and instead put more pressure on the Hezbollah to find out what happened to the Israeli airman.

In particular, the Arad family strongly objects to the proposed release of Mustafa Dirani, a Lebanese guerilla leader, who personally held Captain Arad captive for one year.

It has been reported in Israel that Captain Arad was eventually sold by his Lebanese captors to Iran, but the Iranian authorities have consistently denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

Mr. Sharon says he has no precise information on what happened to the officer.

He says the government is facing one of its toughest decisions, but promised that, regardless of the outcome of the Cabinet discussions, the search for Captain Arad will continue.

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