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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
Israel court orders prisoner access
Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid (left) and Mustapha Dirani
The two men have rarely been seen in public
The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that two Lebanese militants, held in Israel for years without charge or trial, must be allowed to receive visits from the International Red Cross.

One of the men, Sheikh Abdel Karim Obeid, was abducted from Lebanon in 1989 and the other, Mustapha Dirani, has been held since 1994.


Our moral and humane approach is an important component of our security and strength. It was not easy for us to reach a decision

Chief Justice
Aharon Barak
They were both seized by the Israeli army inside Lebanon to be used as bargaining chips in exchange for information about an Israeli airman, Ron Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

The Red Cross has been trying to get permission to see the men for the past four years, but all attempts have been blocked by Israeli security officials.

Hezbollah raid

Last October Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas abducted three Israeli soldiers and an Israeli civilian in a crossborder raid.

Since then they have refused to provide any evidence of their condition or allow anyone to see them.

Hezbollah supporter throws stones at Israeli troops on border
Tensions between Lebanon and Israel are still high

Israel's security officials had argued that any visits to the two Lebanese prisoners should be in tandem with reciprocal visits to their men held by the Hezbollah.

However, the panel of five Supreme Court judges dismissed these arguments voting unanimously for the Red Cross visits to go ahead.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak said that the humanitarian considerations outweighed any security concerns.

"Our moral and humane approach is an important component of our security and strength. It was not easy for us to reach a decision," he said.

Anger

The decision has caused anger amongst the relatives of the Israeli men being held by Hezbollah, who demand equal treatment.


I'm not saying that the court should prevent the visit, but I'm asking that the Red Cross get members to meet our children, to get them lawyers as well

Parent of missing Israeli
"Obeid and Dirani are seen on TV regularly - I have no idea what is happening to my brother," said Eyal Avitan, the brother of captured Israeli soldier Adi Avitan.

They are demanding that the Red Cross help their relatives in the same way.

"I'm not saying that the court should prevent the visit, but I'm asking that the Red Cross get members to meet our children, to get them lawyers as well," said Haim Avraham, parent to one of the missing soldiers.

Argument scuppered

Hezbollah has refused access to the Israelis on the grounds that Mr Obeid and Mr Dirani were not afforded the same rights - now that argument has been scuppered it is hoped that they too will now have to allow visits.

Reporters say that the decision is a significant rejection of the arguments of the powerful security establishment in Israel.

However, the BBC's Jerusalem correspondent warned that the previous Israeli Government simply ignored the court when it ruled in April last year that the detention of Mr Obeid and Mr Dirani was unlawful.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Childs reports
"This decision is certain to be controversial"
See also:

29 May 00 | Middle East
No decision on Lebanese detainees
10 Oct 00 | Middle East
Kidnapped Israelis 'alive and well'
09 Jul 01 | Middle East
Hezbollah warns UN over kidnap tape
11 Jul 01 | Middle East
UN probes Hezbollah video bungle
10 Jul 01 | Middle East
Israel accuses UN over tape
24 May 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Lebanon one year on
23 May 01 | Media reports
Lebanon anniversary sparks debate
24 May 01 | Middle East
Hezbollah remembers 'landmark victory'
23 May 00 | Middle East
Q & A: Leaving Lebanon
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