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Israeli Pilots Union Criticizes Foreign Ministry on Reported ‘deal’ with Algeria

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Representatives of the Israeli pilots union were sharply critical of the Foreign Ministry today in the wake of the release by Algeria of the hijacked $7,500,000 Boeing 707 jet and its 12 Israeli passengers and crewmen who had been held in Algeria since the El Al plane was pirated by Arab terrorists July 23. The source of the criticism was a reported “deal” made by the Israel Government with Algeria to obtain the plane’s release. According to widespread reports, confirmed by authoritative sources in Jerusalem last week, Israel agreed to make a “humanitarian gesture” once the plane and the 12 detainees were safely in Israeli hands. The “gesture,” it is widely believed, would consist of freeing certain Arab prisoners held by Israel; the Cabinet reportedly may decide on it Sunday.

At a special meeting held by the Histadrut central committee to officially welcome home Capt. Oded Abarbanel, chief pilot of the newly released plane and his crew, spokesmen for Israeli airline pilots accused the Foreign Ministry of taking more credit than it was due for release of the plane. Capt. David Gutmann, head of the Israel Pilots Association and the Israeli representative to the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA), declared that the latter organization’s threat to boycott Algeria had greater influence on the Algerian authorities than the reported “deal” offered by Israel through the Italian Government which served as an intermediary. Another speaker, Capt. Baruch Pressman of the Aircrew Association, said “we should not have given a prize to the hijackers. The Foreign Ministry creates illusions. Algeria did not give in to any speeches of the Ministry but to pressure by IFALPA and the International Transport Workers Federation. What worries us,” Capt. Pressman said, “is what will happen in the future if the hijackers are given a prize.” The Foreign Ministry had no comment today save to say that the pilots lacked “fundamental details” and that the action of the Italian Government in the case was decisive.

(It was reported in London today that a “humanitarian gesture” by Israel was first suggested by the Italians at the beginning of August and was subsequently approved by a majority of the Eshkol Cabinet. The paper said that the Algerians at one point submitted a list of 24 men they wanted freed in exchange for the detained Israelis but Israel balked at specifying the prisoners to be freed before the aircraft and its passengers and crew were released. The Daily Express said that Israel will hand over 12 elderly Arab prisoners but they will not be terrorists who, once freed, could resume their sabotage against Israel. According to the newspaper, the Arabs to be released are elderly, sickly illiterates who have spent many years in Israeli jails for infiltration, robbery and like offenses.) El Al reported today that the 39-day detention of its jet liner cost the company about $300,000 in charter fees for a replacement plane which enabled the airline to maintain its scheduled flights. However, observers believe that most if not all of the loss will be made up by the increased traffic carried by El Al as an indirect result of the hijacking. Passengers filled El Al flights to capacity during August, they said, many of them in a gesture of support and solidarity against the hijackers and Algeria. The released plane was reported to be in excellent condition and was expected to be back in service in a full days.

Algeria handed over the 12 Israelis to the Red Cross on Saturday, after completing its investigation into the hijacking, and they were flown to Rome and then home. The plane itself was flown to Rome by a French crew and then to Lydda Airport in Israel. Twenty-six other passengers and crew members, among them three Israeli hostesses and Israeli women and children, were allowed to return to Israel shortly after Arab terrorists, armed with guns and grenades, forced it off course while on a Rome to Lydda flight. The detainees returned home to a joyful celebration. Capt. Abarbanel said they were not mistreated. He said they were kept in barracks and permitted to leave their rooms only to go to lavatories.

While the entire country experienced a deep sense of relief, Foreign Minister Abba Eban convened a press conference to express the Government’s official evaluation of the entire situation. “The resolution of this dangerous matter by political means is an event worthy of positive appraisal throughout the world,” he said. “I express our appreciation to the many governments which have exerted their positive influence…to the international organizations including the aviation and pilots’ organizations, and to United Nations Secretary-General U Thant and the International Red Cross and to the hundreds of newspapers of all continents which expressed their concern for the well-being of our detained citizens and for the respect of the principles of law and international morality. However, I find it my duty to specially mention our deep appreciation to the Italian Government…for (its) good offices and their untiring efforts to solve this matter.” Mr. Eban said Algeria should have released the plane, crew and passengers at once after the hijacking. “Compared to the fate of Israeli citizens kidnapped and held in neighboring Arab countries,” he said, “such as Egypt and Syria, the solution has been honorable and in line with international law and morality.”

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