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Last Updated: Friday, 1 September 2006, 05:20 GMT 06:20 UK
Film of missing Israeli deepens mystery
By Martin Patience
BBC News website, Jerusalem

Picture from Lebanese TV purporting to show Ron Arad
The authenticity of the grainy picture has not been confirmed
Grainy black and white footage purportedly showing missing Israeli airman Major Ron Arad has been broadcast repeatedly on Israel TV, captivating a nation eager for new information on his fate.

Almost 20 years after he was captured when his plane was brought down over southern Lebanon, Maj Arad continues to be the most emotive symbol of Israeli soldiers held captive or missing in action.

Ron is a very painful symbol for many Israelis because we haven't brought him home
Uri Chen
Born to Freedom Foundation
For many Israelis, the release of the footage by Lebanese TV station LBC on Monday - in a promotion for a forthcoming documentary - is particularly compelling in light of the recent capture of three Israeli soldiers.

In June, a soldier was captured and is believed to be held in Gaza. Another two Israeli soldiers were seized by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in a cross-border raid in July.

Prisoner swap

"Ron is a very painful symbol for many Israelis because we haven't brought him home," says Uri Chen, director of the Born to Freedom Foundation, an organisation offering $10m for information on the whereabouts of the captured airman.

Ron Arad, archive picture
Ron Arad disappeared after being shot down over Lebanon in 1986
"Every Israeli soldier is educated to do the utmost to bring back his brothers from the battlefield whether dead or alive. That is something that has never happened with Ron."

Maj Arad was captured by the pro-Iranian Shia Muslim militia Amal in 1986. A year later, the militia offered to swap Mr Arad for 200 Lebanese and 450 Palestinian prisoners, as well as $3m (1.6m).

But negotiations reportedly collapsed after Israel refused to exchange Palestinian prisoners for the airman.

No comment

Mindful of the Arad case, representatives of the three recently-captured soldiers urged the Israeli government to quickly secure their release.

Reserve Major General Uzi Dayan, speaking at news conference, warned: "The danger is growing and if the situation continues as it is we will receive another Ron Arad case and another. This is what we must prevent."

I think most people think that Ron Arad is probably dead but it's very comfortable to believe that we have a hope to find him
Haim Tal
Israeli film-maker

The newly-released footage claiming to show Maj Arad is believed to have been shot before 1989. But the veracity of the film is not known and the LBC refused to comment further on its forthcoming documentary.

Whether or not the promotion is authentic, many Israelis believe that the footage only deepens the mystery of the soldier's whereabouts.

"The only thing that it shows us is the fact that there are a lot of things that we don't know," legislator Ami Ayalon, who once headed the domestic Shin Bet security service, told Israeli Army radio.

'Beautiful legend'

Throughout Israel, the name Ron Arad is widely known. Even many young children born after his capture are aware of his story.

While there are several Israeli soldiers captured or missing in action - including three soldiers missing in southern Lebanon from 1982 - it is Maj Arad's fate that has gripped Israel.

"I think most people think that Ron Arad is probably dead but it's very comfortable to believe that we have a hope to find him," says Haim Tal, a prominent Israeli film-maker, who has made 30 films including several on the issue of the Israeli military and its role in society.

"It's a beautiful legend, something everyone believes in: that the government, the army is doing everything to bring him home."

With the documentary on Maj Arad's capture to be shown on Lebanese TV on 6 September new details on the airman's fate may emerge.

Certain to be watching the documentary will be Maj Arad's family, says Mr Chen.

"We have never seen a video tape since Ron Arad was captured. For his family it's very important even if it's not a dramatic change in solving the case," he says.

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