JERUSALEM (Aug. 12)
High level conferences were expected here today to map new strategy to secure the release of the hijacked El Al airliner that has been held in Algeria since July 23. Informed sources said that all political avenues had been exhausted and all that Israel could do for the time being was “sit back and wait.” They noted however that the International Federation of Pilots Associations and other non-governmental bodies continued to maintain contacts with Algeria. The pilots’ group had volunteered to try to negotiate the release of the plane and its 12 Israeli passengers and crewmen.
Meanwhile, Gideon Rafael, director-general of the Israel Foreign Ministry, and his deputy. Gen. Aviezer Chelouche, returned from Rome today where efforts to free the plane had been centered for the last week. The Boeing 707 jet was over Italian territory when it was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. Mr. Rafael was scheduled to report today to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol who is acting Foreign Minister while Abba Eban is in Africa.
(In Boston, the Christian Science Monitor reported today that Iraq has officially asked Algeria to impound the hijacked airliner in exchange for an Iraqi MIG-21 flown to Israel by a defecting Iraqi pilot two years ago. John K. Cooley reported, “the Iraqi move, it is believed, is an effort to provide Algeria with legal justification to hold the plane in face of mounting international pressure.” “There have been persistent reports that Algeria has been trying to work out a secret deal with Israel for return of the Boeing through Italian and French intermediaries. Arab spokesmen say they want Israel to release some Palestinian prisoners in return. Israeli spokesmen have unofficially rejected this.” Mr. Cooley said. He noted that spokesmen for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which hijacked the aircraft, claim it as “the property of the Palestinian people.” According to Mr. Cooley, “the Iraqi Government will file suit with Algerian courts against the ‘Israeli occupation authorities’ and has requested impounding of the Boeing.”)
(It was reported at the United Nations today that Secretary-General U Thant will visit Algiers to attend a conference of the Organization of African Unity during the second week in September “provided international developments” warrant it. A high Secretariat source interpreted this to be a clear reference to Mr. Thant’s desire to have the plane and detained Israelis released.)