True||Iran Sunday said that four Iranians, three of them diplomats, were kidnapped in 1982 in Lebanon by members of former Christian warlord  Samir Geagea's militia are alive and being held in Israel. "We consider them all to be alive until the time we are presented with proof that they have been martyred," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.||

BEIRUT: Iran Sunday said that four Iranians, three of them diplomats, were kidnapped in 1982 in Lebanon by members of former Christian warlord  Samir Geagea's militia are alive and being held in Israel. "We consider them all to be alive until the time we are presented with proof that they have been martyred," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

"They are alive and are held by the Zionist regime," he said.

Tehran and Hizbullah have repeatedly claimed that the four missing Iranians are still alive and in Israeli custody, after being handed over by  Geagea's Lebanese Forces (LF) to, then ally, Israel.

Last week Geagea said in an interview with As-Safir newspaper the Iranians died in captivity at least 20 years ago.

"LF members killed the Iranian diplomats shortly after they were kidnapped," said Lebanese Forces leader Geagea.

He said the Lebanese Defense Ministry investigated the incident in the early 90s and that both "Lebanese and Iranian governments have all the details of the operation," including the burial place of the diplomats.

Geagea said he didn't know why the Iranians had not closed the file.

The LF blames the killing of the Iranian diplomats on former LF military commander in Beirut, Elie Hobeika, who was killed in 2001.

Three Iranian diplomats - Mohsen Mousavi, Ahmad Motevaselian, Taqi Rastegarmoghaddam - and a photographer for state news agency IRNA, Kazem Akhavan, went missing in Northern Lebanon during the country's Civil War.

According to Lebanese judiciary sources, the diplomats were on their way from Damascus to join the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on July 4, 1982.

Upon reaching the Lebanese-Syrian border point of Masnaa in the Bekaa Valley, the Iranians were joined by a Lebanese security convoy.

The sources added that the Lebanese Foreign Ministry recommended they use  the Bekaa-Cedars-Koura-Barbara road instead of the Beirut-Damascus highway, which was then under Israeli control.

LF members controlling a military checkpoint in Barbara arrested them and told their guards to proceed. They were then immediately transferred to the Karantina area in Beirut under the command of Raji Abdo, and disappeared afterwards.

The question of the missing Iranians has played a prominent role in back-door negotiations between Lebanon, Iran and Israel, which is seeking information on Israeli Air Force navigator Ron Arad, shot down over South Lebanon in 1986.

Israel has accused Hizbullah of handing Arad over to Iran, but Tehran denies such claims and Hizbullah denies it ever held Arad.

In the interview with As-Safir, Geagea admitted having committed mistakes during the Civil War but denies having committed "war crimes or crimes against humanity."  Geagea also said that Iran is currently "the primary actor in the region's standoff with the West, as it is trying to emerge as a world power." "All the developments in the region will be based on this issue for at least the coming three years," he said.

Geagea went on to say that the Hizbullah-Iranian alliance is based on their mutual beliefs and aspirations.

Hizbullah has been repeatedly accused of being an agent of Iran, but Geagea said that was not the case and added that the group "passionately believes in what it is doing." Geagea has been calling the last few months for the disarmament of Hizbullah because its weapons "are no longer beneficial."

Geagea also said all Lebanese parties are looking forward to establishing good relations with Syria, but

the problem is that the

Syrians have not recognized Lebanon's sovereignty and independence yet.

He also called for the complete implementation of the Taif Accord, which he deemed "the best solution for Lebanon." The Christian leader said his party was unlikely to take to the streets to oust pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud after the national dialogue failed produce a decision on the question of the presidency. - With agencies

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