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´Lifting the Lebanon Blockade Means Abandoning the Captives´

So says Gen. (ret.) Uzi Dayan, head of the Return the Captives task force. The two families of the kidnapped soldiers being held in Lebanon will meet with PM Olmert today, expecting an explanation.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 9/7/2006, 1:51 PM / Last Update: 9/7/2006, 10:26 AM

While progress on an exchange for Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier being held captive in Gaza by Hamas, is being reported from nearly all quarters, the families of Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - the two soldiers abducted into Lebanon - fear that their sons are on their way to repeating the Ron Arad story.

"If the blockade is lifted on Lebanon's maritime and air ports, there is nothing to stop the Lebanese from taking them to Tehran," said Eldad's brother Benny this morning. "We have to look at Ron Arad. It could be the same situation with Eldad and Udi."

Ron Arad is an Israel Air Force navigator who was captured in Lebanon in 1986; assumed to have been taken to Syria and Iran, he has never been seen since, and there is no knowledge if he is even alive. While Israeli officials continue to say they are working on the assumption that he is alive, Hizbullah arch-terrorist leader Sheikh Nasrallah recently said his operative supposition is that Arad is dead.

Israel agreed last night, at the behest of the U.S., to lift the embargo on Lebanon at 6 PM today (Thursday). The embargo has been in place since the recent Israeli-Hizbullah war, and was designed to prevent the entry of arms and ammunition into the country and the transport of the two captives out of the country.

The decision was made despite a recommendation to the contrary by the IDF.

The Regev and Goldwasser families are outraged over the decision by Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to lift the embargo without even receiving information on the soldiers’ well-being. They say this is a blatant breach of an unwritten government promise not to do so.

Ehud's father Shlomo told Ynet, "We want answers. The Prime Minister told us a few weeks ago that he relates to this kidnapping as if they were his own sons, but as of now, we're not so sure that this is how he is acting or feeling."

Gen. Uzi Dayan feels that the decision means the abandonment of the kidnapped soldiers. "Israel has not yet received a single sign of life from the soldiers," he said this morning, "and this decision is a concession of the last means we have to return them home."

Supervision over Lebanon's entries and exits will be given over to UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force.

International pressure on Israel to remove the blockade had been increasing of late, and Lebanon's Foreign Minister had even threatened that if the closure was not removed by Friday, Lebanon would break through it. Peretz explained yesterday that the final decision was made by Israel following a request from Lebanon and "at the request of the United States."

The Personal Responsibility Forum strongly condemned what it called "another cave-in by the Prime Minister, abandoning the captives and in violation of his promises to the families.

The UNIFIL forces at Lebanon's sea ports are scheduled to be replaced by German naval forces in two weeks' time. Until then, the ports will be guarded by French, Italian, British and Greek troops comprising the UNIFIL force.