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Court: Israel Can’t Hold Lebanese

April 12, 2000

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel’s Supreme Court ruled today that the state cannot hold Lebanese detainees as bargaining chips to trade for a missing air force officer, and ordered eight of the 15 men released, a lawyer in the case said.

The two most prominent detainees, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani, will remain in custody for now, said lawyer Zvi Rish.

The court issued a ruling of principle, saying that the state cannot hold detainees who are not directly involved in security matters, Rish said.

It was not immediately clear why the justices ordered the release of only eight detainees. The court handed down the ruling behind closed doors, with several of the Lebanese prisoners present.

Rish said he was pleased with the ruling, ``but also very angry that this has taken 14 years.″

Human rights groups have criticized Israel for holding the Lebanese without filing charges.

Israel says it is holding them as bargaining chips for the return of Ron Arad, an Israeli air force navigator who was captured alive in Lebanon in 1986 after his plane was shot down.

Obeid, a Shiite Muslim spiritual leader kidnapped from his south Lebanese home in 1989, and Dirani, abducted in 1994, are being held in a secret facility, apart from the others.

Six detainees have been released in recent months, mostly in what Israel said was a goodwill gesture at the resumption of Israel-Syria peace talks.

After three Supreme Court justices ruled in 1997 that the state has the right to hold the Lebanese, Rish appealed for a larger panel to consider the issue.

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