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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 10:26 GMT
Hezbollah: 'Missing Israeli dead'
Ron Arad
Israeli pilot Ron Arad has been missing since 1986
The leader of militant Lebanese group Hezbollah has said that the missing Israeli airman Ron Arad is probably dead, although he has no proof.

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told Lebanon's NTV that Hezbollah would have made a new prisoner exchange deal with Israel if it had any information.

It was the first time the Shia group has explicitly stated it did not know about Mr Arad's fate.

Mr Arad disappeared after his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

Israel has said it believes he was held alive in Lebanon for some time after bailing out of his plane.

'Dead and lost'

"I have an analysis that is not based on tangible facts... but if you asked me for my conclusion I would say that he is dead and lost," he said in the interview on Wednesday evening.

"One theory is that he escaped. He did not know the mountain area. He fell in a ravine, was stuck somewhere and died. No-one knew of him and his remains have disappeared."

The lawyer for Mr Arad's family dismissed Sheikh Nasrallah's comments.

"He's said he was alive when it suited him. He's said he had information on Ron's whereabouts when it suited him... He is the master of manipulation," Eliad Shraga told Israeli Army radio.

Israel has demanded proof of Mr Arad's fate before it will free Samir al-Qantar, a Lebanese gunman who killed four Israelis, including two children, in an attack in Galilee in 1979.

In 2004, Israeli forensic scientists examined bone fragments handed over by a Lebanese group, but the remains were not those of the Israeli airman.

An Israeli organisation has posted a $10m reward for any information about Mr Arad.

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