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Lebanese Guerrilla Chief Talks

June 16, 2000

JERUSALEM (AP) _ In his first interview since he was kidnapped in 1994, Lebanese guerrilla leader Mustafa Dirani said an Israeli airman he held captive played with his small son, but was taken away by other forces when Israel bombed the area.

Interviews with Dirani and with Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, a spiritual leader of the Hezbollah guerrilla group abducted from Lebanon in 1989, were printed Friday in the Maariv daily. Dirani and Obeid, held by Israel to trade for missing airman Ron Arad, appeared in an open court session for the first time May 29.

Dirani said Arad was turned over to him shortly after the Israeli’s plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. He said Arad was ``calm and comfortable″ in captivity. ``He played with my son, who was 2 1/2 years old then,″ Dirani said. Sometimes Arad cried when he looked at pictures of his family.

Arad’s mother, Batya, told the paper that Dirani was lying. ``We know for sure that he tortured him (Arad) and hauled him around in the trunk of his car for weeks, tied up and blindfolded,″ she said.

Maariv relayed written questions to Dirani and Obeid, who insisted that their responses be published in full.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in April that Israel cannot hold foreign nationals without charges unless they threaten the country’s security. Israel freed 13 Lebanese prisoners held as bargaining chips, but kept Obeid and Dirani, claiming that they would pose a danger if released.

The government is working on legislation that would counter the court ruling and allow detention of members of hostile organizations to trade for missing Israelis. Arad has not been heard from in more than a decade.

Lawyer Zvi Rish, who represents the two prisoners, confirmed that he relayed the newspaper’s questions, and they handed him their written replies.

Dirani was in charge of security for the Amal militia. He said he transferred Arad to a higher Amal official after hostilities erupted between Amal and the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

When Israel attacked the Lebanese town of Maidoon in May 1988, Dirani said, Arad’s guards ran to check on their relatives there, and Arad disappeared. ``I had no knowledge of what happened to him for several days,″ he said.

In the court session, Dirani said Iranian soldiers took Arad away. State attorney Dvora Chen said Dirani has given many different versions of the events.

Obeid wrote that he was a local spiritual leader for Hezbollah, the guerrilla group set up after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Obeid said that if Israel had not occupied Lebanon, Hezbollah might never have been formed.

Israel pulled its soldiers out of Lebanon last month after a bloody guerrilla war against Hezbollah. Obeid said if Israel’s withdrawal is complete and all prisoners are released, Hezbollah will not attack Israeli border villages.

``But that does not mean it (Hezbollah) would agree to peace″ with Israel, he wrote, charging that the Jewish state was created by ``force, murder and greed″ and had no right to exist.

Obeid’s only other interview was on Israel television in 1991. He and Dirani were not allowed to talk to reporters when they appeared in court May 29.

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