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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 11:19 GMT
Israel declares seized soldiers dead
Haim Avraham, the father of Sergeant Binyamin Avraham
Binyamin Avraham's father (centre) is told of his death
The Israeli army has declared that the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped a year ago by Hezbollah guerrillas on the northern border with Lebanon are dead.

The army's chief rabbi, Israel Weiss, informed the soldiers' families of his decision on Friday.

Staff Sergeant Benny Avraham
Binyamin Avraham - one of the three abducted soldiers
Earlier in the week, the army said that fresh intelligence led them to believe the soldiers had probably died, but left the final verdict to the rabbi.

The families of two of the men - Binyamin Avraham and Adi Avitan - said they would now accept the army's decision, despite saying earlier they would not give up hope until they saw their sons' bodies.

The relatives of the other soldier, Omar Suwad, are yet to respond.

The families held what was reportedly a stormy meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday, when they demanded concrete evidence and argued that the government was not doing enough to find the soldiers.

It is unclear whether they have now been issued with proof of the deaths.

Border ambush

The three men were patrolling along the border when they were attacked by Hezbollah on 7 October last year.

The Israelis now believe that the troops died from injuries sustained in the original attack.

Hezbollah has refused to say whether the soldiers are dead or alive.

"Since the first day of the abduction, we resolved not to comment on the condition of the Zionist prisoners except in exchange for the full satisfaction of our demands," Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday.

Hezbollah seized the soldiers in the Shebaa Farms area - land that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Hezbollah says the area belongs to Lebanon and has vowed to fight Israel until it withdraws.

Israeli row with UN

Israel accused the UN of suppressing evidence after it emerged in July that members of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (Unifil) had videotaped the scene of the kidnapping.

Israel demanded access to the tape for months, but UN officials at first denied it existed.

A UN report later acknowledged failings on the part of the organisation, but denied any conspiracy to withhold information from the Israeli Government.

Israel took up a UN offer to view an edited version of the tape, which had the faces of all non-UN personnel obscured.

See also:

06 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israelis to view UN videotape
10 Jul 01 | Middle East
Israel accuses UN over tape
06 Jul 01 | Middle East
Envoys discuss Lebanon tension
10 Oct 00 | Middle East
Kidnapped Israelis 'alive and well'
24 May 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Lebanon one year on
16 Apr 01 | Middle East
Syria: The power in Lebanon
13 Oct 01 | Middle East
Lebanon nervous over Hezbollah link
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