Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused Israel of kidnapping and holding four Iranians, three of them diplomats, prisoner since 1982.

“Regarding the four abducted Iranian diplomats, there are documents [that show] they are alive and in the hands of the Zionist Regime [of Israel],” Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as telling UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during a meeting in New York on Saturday.

“It is therefore expected of the UN Secretary General to take serious measures for their release,” Ahmadinejad said.

Three Iranian diplomats, Mohsen Mousavi, Ahmad Motevaselian and Taghi Rastegar Moghadam, along with an Iranian photographer, Kazem Akhavan, disappeared amid the chaos of the civil war in Lebanon on 4 July 1982.

Tehran maintains the four were abducted by Falangist fighters who handed them over to Israel, which had established a buffer zone south of the Litani River to ensure Lebanon's violence didn't spill over into the Jewish state.

Some 17,000 civilians went missing during Lebanon's civil war and fate of the missing diplomats had remained a non-starter, with no accusations leveled at Israel, for decades.

But in June 2008, Hizbullah claimed out of the blue to have received a report, which it did not see fit to make public, indicating the four were alive and held in Israel.

Then, in June 2011, Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi claimed the four men are alive and possibly imprisoned in Israeli jails. He urged the Lebanese government to pursue the issue.

Israeli officials, however, say the four were killed by Lebanese militiamen shortly after their abduction in 1982.

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