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Anguished families plead for kidnapped sons

Jewish Telegraphic Agency
November 7, 2000

David Karp/Consulate General of Israel
Edna (left) and Haim Avraham (standing far left), parents of abducted Israeli soldier Binyamin Avraham, listen to Ambassador Shmuel Sisso, right, at a news conference in New York. Standing next to Sisso is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). The families of the three soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah are in the United States to plead the cases of their sons.
NEW YORK—A Haim and Edna Avraham arrived in New York this week armed with more than palpable anguish for their kidnapped son, Binyamin.

On the floor of their midtown Manhattan hotel room was a cardboard box stuffed with 30,000 blue and white bumper stickers, printed poignantly with: "Mom's home, waiting."

The stickers, for anyone who'll take one, list the names of three Israeli soldiers-Benny Avraham, 20; Adi Avitan, 20; and Omar Souad, 27.

Hezbollah abducted the trio Oct. 7 during a routine Israeli army check of the northern border with Lebanon and has not been heard from since.

Their families were in the United States this week to highlight the fate of their sons in meetings with American politicians, Jewish leaders and, possibly, U.N. officials.

Israeli investigators found blood at the site where the Israelis were abducted, leading them to believe that at least one of the soldiers was injured.

"I beg of everyone to help: I don't want anything else in the world but to know the condition of my son, and that these three boys are okay," Khadra Souad, the mother of Omar and 11 other children, said Monday during an interview at the hotel, just hours after they stepped off the plane.

Omar, a Bedouin from the village of Wadi Salameh, is the only one of the three who is married. He has two children, aged 3 and 5.

Israel has offered a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, but the Syria-and Iran-backed militants have not responded, said Lt. Col. Rina Idan, the Israel Defense Force's liaison to the families who accompanied the group on their weeklong visit.

"Israel has sent a clear message that we are willing to negotiate, but the letter has not been answered," Idan said.

The case of a fourth Israeli, a businessman kidnapped in mid-October, is being handled separately, said Idan. He is a civilian, while the other three are soldiers.

Meanwhile, the IDF northern command is now on high alert, amid warnings that Hezbollah may be about to launch a massive attack near the confluence of the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian borders.

A bumper sticker being distributed by the families of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

In response, Israeli warplanes reportedly violated Lebanese airspace this week and landed two helicopter gunships in a southern village.

Israeli officials confirmed the incident, saying it was intended to protect Israeli security in the wake of the soldiers' kidnappings.

As for the three families, Israeli officials in New York invited them to the United States to "open a second front," in the words of one Israeli official, to publicize their cause, condemn Hezbollah's tactics and use diplomatic channels to apply pressure on Syria, Lebanon, Iran and the United Nations.

"Today it's Israeli soldiers, tomorrow it could be American soldiers," said Haim Avraham, whose family resides in Bnai Brak, near Tel Aviv.

"One day our sons were stolen, and we want them back."

During their stay, they were meeting with U.S. politicians, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and first lady Hillary Clinton, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the New York Jewish Community Relations Council.

They are also planning to attend the United Jewish Communities' General Assembly, scheduled to begin over the weekend in Chicago.

In particular, the group hoped to exhort the United Nations, which has been perceived as being historically hostile to Israel, to wield its influence.

Israel believes that the United Nations bears special responsibility since it was the world body that for 22 years had demanded Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

When Israel did withdraw in May, the United Nations moved in a peacekeeping force to monitor the border. The three soldiers were abducted while a U.N. patrol reportedly cowered in its post nearby.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently tried to negotiate a release with Hezbollah officials, apparently to no avail.

The appeal for intervention and release should be based on more than humanitarian grounds, said another of the fathers, Ya'acov Avitan of Tiberias.

"The mitzvot of releasing prisoners is one of the greatest mitzvot of Judaism, and also of the Islamic faith," said Avitan, whose family emigrated from Morocco.

"So this is not only a humanitarian issue, but a religious issue."

© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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