Israeli ‘gesture’ to Algeria Possible After Release of El Al Jet and Detainees

Official sources here today did not rule out an Israeli “gesture” toward Algeria after the hijacked El Al airliner and its 12passengers and crewmen are released. They said a decision was up to the Cabinet but reiterated that no gesture of any kind is contemplated before the plane and the detainees are freed. They stressed that there have been no contacts – official or otherwise – between Israel and Algeria on the matter. Negotiations in Rome for release of the plane, with Italy acting as intermediary, were broken off last week when the Algerians demanded the release of 24 Arab terrorists held by Israel in exchange for the Boeing 707 plane. The Cabinet rejected the demand as “blackmail.” Meanwhile, official quarters said that nothing new had come to light as a result of the talks in New York yesterday between Ambassador Yosef Tekoah, Israel’s chief representative to the United Nations, and UN Secretary-General U Thant on the hijacked plane. They said that Mr. Thant informed the Israeli envoy that he was continuing his efforts to obtain the release of the plane. Mr. Tekoah has been recalled to Jerusalem for high level consultations on Israel’s position at the forthcoming sessions of the UN General Assembly which will open on Sept. 23. He is due here early next week and is expected to remain here for two weeks.

Representatives of Swissair, the national airline of Switzerland, attempted today to recover the goodwill of Israelis who have been boycotting the carrier because it allegedly refused to participate in the boycott of Algeria called by the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA). The boycott was called off before it went into effect. But Israelis in large numbers have discontinued patronizing Swissair which had once been one of their favorite airlines to and from Europe. At a press conference today, representatives of the company denied reports that its management had tried to persuade Swissair pilots not to go along with the IFALPA boycott. They said that the pilots decided to hold a referendum among themselves, which was not completed before the boycott was cancelled. The boycott was to have been a weapon of last resort to press Algeria to release the $6 million airliner and detainees held since July 23. Swissair, one of the three principal foreign airlines serving Algeria, operates two flights weekly to that country compared to 12 flights to Israel. The Swissair representatives pointed out at their press conference that theirs was the last international airline to suspend service to Israel when the Six-Day War broke out on June 5, 1967 and the first to resume service, on June 8, three days before the fighting ended.

(The French Pilots Union today apologized to the Algerian Government for what it termed a “misunderstanding” of Algeria’s position with regard to the release of the airliner and the Israelis. The union said that a meeting its representatives had with Algerian authorities eliminated the misunderstanding and that the union decided to wait until Algeria completes its “investigation” of the hijacking. The French union had initially supported the boycott called by the Pilots Federation.)

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