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A.G. favors returning Lebanese hostages
By Aviva Lavie
Haaretz Dec 16 1999

                 Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein believes
                 the time has come for Israel to return the 21
                 Lebanese citizens held here over the years in the
                 hope that they could be exchanged for missing
                 navigator Ron Arad.

                 Between 1986 and 1994, Israel arrested the
                 Lebanese, including two relatively famous
                 hostages, Mustafa Dirani, who at one point held
                 Arad as a prisoner, and Sheikh Abd el Karim
                 Obeid. They are sharing a cell in a secret
                 location in Israel while the rest of the hostages
                 are at Ramle Prison.

                 Several of them were juveniles at the time of
                 their arrest by Israeli forces. Two were under the
                 age of 16 when they were grabbed from their
                 homes. Some were tried and convicted for
                 membership in the Hezbollah and were
                 sentenced to terms ranging from a year and a
                 half to four and a half years, but when their
                 sentences were over, courts extended their prison
                 stays. The others were never put on trial. None
                 of them have "blood on their hands" or even
                 took part in violent actions against Israel. The
                 most veteran hostage has been held for 13 years.

                 No organization has ever demanded them back
                 and that fact, combined with the amount of time
                 that has passed since Arad disappeared in
                 Lebanon, has created a controversy inside the
                 security and legal establishments. Last July, Shin
                 Bet Chief Ami Ayalon told a closed forum of
                 state attorneys that he doesn't believe holding 19
                 of them as administrative detainees as a
                 bargaining chip for prisoners of war or hostages
                 "has contributed or will contribute anything."
                 Ayalon also noted that holding them is not only
                 immoral, but useless.

                 Recently Rubinstein has taken up the issue,
                 suggesting that if they cannot be released all at
                 once, they could be released gradually.

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