TEL AVIV (Jul. 24)
An Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman declared today that while Israel had no proof that the Algerian Government had a hand in the hijacking of an Israeli El Al airliner Tuesday when it took off from Rome for Israel, it held the Algerian Government responsible for the safety and well-being of the 10 kidnaped crew, 11 Israeli passengers, and of the Boeing 707 airliner.
Although the Algerian authorities had asserted yesterday that the passengers aboard the plane would be released, the spokesman pointed out, the Israelis among the passengers were still being detained and there was no indication from Algiers as to the fate of these passengers and the crew.
(Reports from Algiers said that authorities admitted that passengers and crew members had been placed in detention at a secret place. The authorities would not say where they were confined nor what future might in store for them.)
It is known that Israel was seeking assistance through the United Nations: International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency; the International Air Transportation Association, a trade association of international carriers; and Air France, which maintains service between France and Algeria. Diplomatic contacts between Israel and the UN Secretariat and Algeria and the Secretariat were maintained throughout Tuesday.
The Israel Embassy in Paris asked the French Government today to intervene with the Algerian Government to secure the release of the passengers, crew and Boeing. E. Rone, the Israel Minister, made the request at a meeting with the head of the North African desk at the French Foreign Office. French Foreign Minister Michael Debre was scheduled to receive Abdel Azziz Bouteflika, Algerian Foreign Minister, at the Quai D’Orsay today or tomorrow and it was generally believed that the hijacking of the Israeli airliner and the fate of the Israelis still held by the Algerians would be discussed.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, speaking Tuesday night at Ramleh on the 20th anniversary of that town’s liberation, charged that Egypt was responsible for the hijacking since it sheltered the organization responsible for the act of piracy – the Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He termed the hijacking “highway robbery.”
A strong demand for action to secure the release of the plane and prisoners was made today by Maariv, Israel’s largest newspaper. An editorial demanded strong action by Israel without delay.
The paper said that not only Algeria but every Arab state should be called to task if the plane, crew and passengers were not released promptly. There is no third way,” the paper said. “Either Algeria returns the plane of its own free will or Israel will have to force them to return it.”
Italy has confirmed that the airliner, seized by Arab terrorists, was hijacked over Italian territory, and Rome may intercede with the Algerian Government if no action is taken to return the detained Israeli passengers, crew and plane, it was reported here.
An Israeli source said today that “if Algeria continues to harbor the perpetrators who have committed what amounts to armed robbery, she would become an accessory after the fact, sharing the pirates’ guilt.”