Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Is Pressed to Release Shiite Prisoners

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Is Pressed to Release Shiite Prisoners

Article excerpt

SINCE the release of British hostage John McCarthy Thursday, Israel has come under increasing diplomatic pressure to make a goodwill gesture and release at least some of the 300 Shiite prisoners it controls in south Lebanon.

Britain, for instance, called in the Israeli ambassador in London over the weekend to convey the suggestion.

Most of the Shiite prisoners are believed to be held in south Lebanon's Khiam prison, which is run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA), a 3,000-man militia patrolling the security zone.

Over the weekend, Israeli officials reported that SLA commander Antoine Lahd had released 40 inmates earlier this year at Israel's request as a "unilateral show of good will." The release, announced by Uri Lubrani, Israel's policy planner for Lebanon, hadn't been public before.

But he adds that no more releases would follow until Israel learns the whereabouts and condition of seven Israelis missing in Lebanon, some since 1982.

"We have been consistently ... sticking to our position that we will participate in any massive release operation if we were to be satisfied that our soldiers were to be freed," Mr. Lubrani says.

The Israelis believed held in Lebanon are an airman and two soldiers captured in 1986, and a four-man tank crew that disappeared in 1982. It is not known who holds them and whether they are still alive.

Perhaps Israel's best point of leverage in future hostage exchanges is its own prisoner, the pro-Iranian Shiite cleric Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid. Twenty-five commandos abducted the cleric from Jibsheet in south Lebanon in June 1989. He is believed to be held in Israel.

Together with at least 300 Lebanese Shiite prisoners held in Israel and in its self-declared "security zone" in south Lebanon, the Obeid abduction may connect the release of missing Israeli soldiers to that of the Western hostages in Lebanon.

A spiritual leader of Hizbullah - one of the groups believed to be holding the Westerners - Sheikh Obeid's stature has risen dramatically since his abduction, observers say. …

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