Skip to comments.Planes carrying three IDF soldiers, Tennenbaum lands in Germany
Posted on 01/28/2004 10:45:48 PM PST by yonif
The German air force plane carrying businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum and the coffins of the three IDF soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Suweid, landed Thursday morning in a military base near Cologne, Germany, in order to carry out the long-awaited Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap.
The plane carrying 36 Arab prisoners that took off from Lod also landed in the airport, witnesses said.
Buses started carrying the first of 400 Palestinian prisoners toward home from a Negev prison overnight, and a convoy of trucks carrying the bodies of 60 Lebanese killed in action against Israeli troops left around dawn on its way to the Rosh Hanikra border crossing to Lebanon. The convoy will stop at an army base in the north so the Red Cross can identify the bodies before they are handed over at the crossing point.
Although the Israel Defense Forces declared soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Suweid dead in 2002, Hezbollah confirmed their deaths only a few hours before the planes took off. Hezbollah television, quoting "leadership sources" in the group, said: "the three captured Israeli soldiers are dead." It was the first time that the group confirmed Israel's claim that the three, captured in October 2000, had died in an ambush on the Lebanon-Israel border.
An Israeli forensics team, including the chief pathologist, medics and rabbis, flew to Germany on Wednesday and prepared to inspect the bodies of the three soldiers, a crucial step in the exchange.
Israel Defense Forces officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they had received information that the bodies of the soldiers had been preserved in formaldehyde, which could speed up the identification process. The forensics team also brought along dental records and other evidence.
An IDF official told the soldiers' families that the Germans had provided an initial positive identification of the bodies when they were brought onto the plane in Beirut, Army Radio reported. But only after the Israeli forensics team confirms that the remains belong to Avraham, Avitan, and Suweid, will the prisoners and bodies held by Israel start to be moved over to Arab hands.
At that point, some 35 international prisoners - including Lebanese "bargaining chips" Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Abed Karim Obeid - will be transferred from the plane that took them to Germany and put on a plane to take them to Beirut. In addition, some 400 Palestinians will be allowed off the buses carrying them to five border crossings, and into the Palestinian areas.
Israeli officials involved in the step-by-step swap process said the final hours leading up to the exchange on the ground at a German military air force base near Cologne were the most nerve-wracking, as they worried about all that might go wrong.
The biggest worry, said one source, was that Hezbollah might use its TV station in Lebanon to prematurely release images the families of the Israeli soldiers captured in October 2000 might find offensive.
The Germans, complying with both Israeli and Hezbollah requests, are keeping the media away from the air base where the forensic medical examinations of the bodies of the Israelis will take place when they arrive.
Around 4 P.M. the plane returning the Israelis to their families is expected to take off. At 8 P.M. a state military ceremony will be held at the air force base at Ben Gurion Airport, with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leading the ceremonies, which will be broadcast live on all three national TV stations.
Tennenbaum will not take part in the ceremony, which is for the three soldiers. Despite reports that Tennenbaum will be questioned by intelligence officials about how he ended up in Hezbollah hands, he will get about half an hour with his family before being taken to hospital for treatment and then for questioning. No arrest warrant has been issued for him.
In an interview with Hezbollah's Al-Manar television aired Wednesday night, Tennenbaum said he went to Beirut to find information about missing navigator Ron Arad.
Stephan Smyrek, a German citizen who converted to Islam and was affiliated with Hezbollah before being arrested in Israel, will apparently go to Lebanon out of fear that he would be questioned and detained by the German authorities if he stayed there.
The entire exchange will be monitored closely by German intelligence coordinator Ernst Uhrlau. For Israel, Maj. Gen. (res.) Ilan Biran, who negotiated on Israel's behalf, will oversee the process.
Meanwhile, an Iranian delegation - including envoys dispatched by President Mohammad Khatami and spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - arrived on Wednesday in Beirut to assist in moving on to the second stage of the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hezbollah: Ron Arad.
Negotiations on the second stage, slated to commence next week, will involve the transfer into Israeli hands information on the fate of Arad.
Court rejects petitions by terror victims against swap deal The High Court of Justice rejected late Wednesday afternoon two petitions against the prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah scheduled to take place on Thursday.
Victims of Arab Terror International and the Organization of Casualties of Terror Acts in Israel, known by its Hebrew acronym Almagor, both filed petitions with the High Court demanding that the prisoner swap deal be cancelled.
The organization asked the court to disqualify the deal, saying that "hundreds of dangerous terrorists, including ones with blood on their hands," must not be released.
The petitioners asked the court to immediately issue an interim injunction, preventing the release of the prisoners, until their petition is heard by the court.
This raises the question: how much is a Jew worth? The answer from the free world enrages me. The answer from the Arab world leaves me with nothing but unmittigated coldness.
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