TEL AVIV (Sep. 3)
Israel informed the International Red Cross today that 16 detained Arab Infiltrators will be released as a “humanitarian gesture” in connection with the release Saturday of the hijacked El Al airliner and its 12 passengers and crewmen held in Algeria since July 23. The Israeli spokesman said the gesture was being made to the Italian Government in recognition of its efforts to bring about the release of the plane and the Israeli nationals.
Italy was singled out by Foreign Minister Abba Eban Sunday for having played the most effective role among the many governments and non-governmental bodies that had been trying to effect the release of the hijacked airliner. The plane was pirated by Palestinian Arab terrorists over Italian territory while on a flight from Rome to Tel Aviv. Italy volunteered to serve as an intermediary in the prolonged negotiations that followed. The Italians reportedly suggested that Israel offer a “humanitarian gesture” to which Israel eventually agreed on condition that the plane and its passengers and crew members would first be returned safely to Israeli hands.
While Israelis were relieved by the safe return of the detainees and the $7.5 million Boeing aircraft, considerable criticism was voiced over the “gesture” to which the Government had agreed. In some quarters it was regarded as payment of “blackmail” or “ransom.” Capt. Baruch Pressman of the Israel Aircrew Association expressed the misgivings of many fliers when he said yesterday that Israel’s “gesture” might only encourage future hijackings.