Yehia Skaff is one of the ‘phantom’ prisoners from the Middle East conflict(s), which most sides tend to have, a long lost semi-legendary figure whose actual fate is shrouded in shadows.
Skaff, a Lebanese member of the Fatah, took part in a March 1978 operation to Palestine 1948 to capture high-level hostages in an effort to force a prisoner exchange, but the whole operation went badly from the start and ended with Israel’s forces ambushed a bus full of captives and the strike team.
49 people officially died, among them 38 civilians (including 13 children) and 9 members of the strike team. Both sides blamed the other for the carnage. It’s likely that the civilian death toll was caused by both sides during the chaotic firefight.
Israel released the two surviving members of the strike team in a prisoner exchange in 1985, but has never returned the body of Skaff even when Israel’s regime officially claims he was killed. The Israeli regime’s claimed reason for not returning the body as part of exchanges is that it was supposedly never found.
Skaff’s family and people who claim to have been imprisoned with him say that he survived and was at least still recently alive. Associated Press news agency also treated Skaff’s survival and imprisonment as a matter of fact in an article published in 2007 during a prisoner and body exchange done then.
If Yehia Skaff would actually be alive, his imprisonment without International Committee of the Red Cross being given access to him for so long would be a grave violation of international law.
Skaff, who is or was from al-Minnish in Lebanon is not the only Lebanese ‘phantom’ prisoner claimed to be hold by Israel. Non-combatants Moussa Elshiek Salman and Ibrahim Zain El-din have been both missing since 1982 and last seen held by Israel’s occupation forces.