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Lebanese Guerrillas Appear in Court

May 29, 2000

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Two Lebanese guerrilla leaders appeared in open court today, the first time they have been seen in public in years, and a state attorney said they should remain in custody despite Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

Lawyer Zvi Rish said his clients have told the court they would not be involved in attacks now Israel has withdrawn its troops from Lebanon. ``It is time to turn over a new page,″ Rish said.

In April, Israel released 13 Lebanese captives after the Supreme Court ruled that Israel cannot hold foreigners unless they are a threat to state security.

Appearing in court today, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, kidnapped in 1989, had a large dark spot in the middle of his forehead, apparently from frequently touching his head to the ground in prayer. Mustafa Dirani, abducted in 1994, sat next to Obeid and looked pale and fatigued as the hearing began.

``With the help of God I hope to be free,″ Obeid said before court officials stopped reporters from asking questions.

The Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah has said it will continue fighting Israel until Dirani and Obeid are freed, among other conditions. U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen has called on Israel to release the two.

Obeid was a Hezbollah spiritual leader at the time of his abduction and Dirani was a military commander for the Amal militia in Lebanon.

State attorney Dvora Chen told Judge Uri Goren that if Obeid and Dirani are released, ``they will resume senior positions in organizations intending to harm Israel.″

When Obeid and Dirani were abducted, Israel said it would hold them to trade for Ron Arad, an Israeli airman whose plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. In court today, Dirani said he held Arad.

Gesturing animatedly, Dirani, said Arad was transferred to Iran when Israel attacked Maidoon, the Lebanese city where the airman was being held. There have been no indications that Arad is alive in more than a decade.

Chen said Dirani had given several different versions of the events, and she urged the judge to ignore Dirani’s testimony.

The six-month detention order for Obeid and Dirani expires June 17. Goren set July 12 for his decision, assuming that Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who also serves as defense minister, would renew the detention request.

Besides Arad, three Israeli soldiers have been missing in Lebanon since 1982. Yona Baumel, father of Zachary, one of the three, said Israel should continue to hold the two because they are indirectly responsible for Arad’s fate. Baumel moved here with his family from New York in 1970.

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