Israel frees five Hizbullah fighters
We will continue the struggle, say men welcomed home as heroes
Daily Star 28/12/99
Ranwa Yehia
Daily Star staff
Members of the Hizbullah resistance vowed to keep up the fight against Israel within hours of their release from detention. They were among five fighters who were spending their first night of freedom back in Lebanon on Monday after 10 years or more in Israeli jails.
Their release had come unexpectedly in the early hours of the morning after a diplomatic initiative led by the German government.
In thanking the Germans for their help, Prime Minister Salim Hoss said the release of the detainees was "a victory for the resistance and for the Lebanese state in the struggle to liberate our lands from Israeli occupation and to release all our prisoners."
Two of the former prisoners left no doubt that the cause of liberation burned within them as strongly as ever. "Resistance is in our blood," said Hishem Fahs.
"As long as our country is occupied, I will go back to fighting the Israeli occupation," said Ahmad Obeid.
The Hizbullah five returned to their homes on Monday afternoon after emotional scenes at Beirut airport in the early hours of the morning. As soon as the haggard-looking men descended from the Lufthansa plane that had carried them from Frankfurt, they were given Lebanese flags and smaller Hizbullah flags which they waved vigorously.
The men were welcomed by Major General Jamil Sayyed, the director-general of the Surete Generale, representing President Emile Lahoud, and Hizbullah's deputy secretary-general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, representing Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
An Internal Security Forces band played in the background, adding to the mood of triumph.
Fahs and Obeid had been detained since their capture by Israeli commandos in Jibsheet, Nabatieh in 1989 along with a senior Hizbullah leader, Sheikh Abdel-Karim Obeid. The others were Hussein Tleis, captured by the Lebanese Forces in 1989 and allegedly handed to Israel, and Kamal Rizk and Ahmad Srour, who were abducted from their villages of Aitta Shaab and Meis al-Jabal in the occupation zone in 1986 and 1987 respectively. Both were sentenced to three years in prison but remained in Ayalon detention center in Israel for more than ten years.
Srour said he felt good to be back in his country. "But we should never forget that there are other Lebanese detainees who continue to suffer," he said while being supported by his cousin. Tleis, the only married man in his group, was greeted by his wife, Amneh Ibrahim, and his son Ali, 10. Ali was a baby when his father was captured.
"I don't know what to say or how to express what I feel. I just know that my husband is finally coming back," Ibrahim said as Ali clutched his mother's chador.
Sayyed described the Hizbullah men as heroes who were paying the huge tax of war on behalf of all the Lebanese. Qassem added: "We will continue our cooperative efforts with good people to secure the release of all detainees." Asked about Israeli airman Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, Qassem said the case was an unsolvable problem. "We have made titanic efforts and will follow them because it could help gain the release of heroes still detained in Israel."
Arad was captured by the Amal fighters and is believed to have been handed over to the Believers' Resistance, headed by Mustafa Dirani. Dirani was captured from his home in the Bekaa in 1994 by helicopter-borne Israeli commandos. Dirani and Obeid are among 16 guerrillas still being held in administrative detention in Israel.
The Israeli government is holding them up as bargaining chips for
information on the whereabouts of Arad. Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said that the two resistance leaders would not be released. "The case of these two detainees is different from the 14 other Lebanese," Beilin told Israeli radio. The Israeli high court is due to rule later this week on the fate of the 16 being held without trial.
But Beilin said he believed the court would made a "clear distinction" between Obeid and Dirani and the other prisoners, although he did not elaborate.
The release of the prisoners comes less than a week after a two-day ceasefire was arranged between Hizbullah and Israel allowing Red Cross officials to collect the remains of dead fighters in the field. The Israeli government has played up both events as significant breakthroughs. But Professor Nizar Hamzi, head of the political science department at the American University of Beirut, argued that there was no suggestion of a thaw in relations between Israel and Hizbullah and by extension, Iran. "Both Israel and Hizbullah agree that they hate each other but also agree that there is room for political maneuvering. It's a sort of indirect negotiation while each party maintains its ideology,"

Hamzi said. The two events, he said, should be seen as Israel testing whether Syria is exercising control over Hizbullah. "This is good for Hizbullah because it shows the Europeans that the party can work with them in an organized manner. This is important for the continuation of Hizbullah as a political party in the post-peace era," he said.

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