JERUSALEM (Sep. 4)
The 16 Arab prisoners to be released in Israel’s promised “humanitarian gesture” for the safe return of the hijacked El Al jet and 12 Israelis were all arrested before the June 1967 Six-Day War and were serving sentences of from three to 10 years, it was disclosed here today. Representatives of the International Red Cross interviewed the prisoners today, in accordance with international law, to find out if they want to return to their country of origin or go elsewhere.
It was learned that most of the prisoners come from areas now occupied by Israel and may return to their homes if they wish. Minister of Information Israel Galili said yesterday that a special committee appointed by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol chose the 16 prisoners to be released from a list of “Arab fighters.” The list was proposed during negotiations for the return of the $7.5 million El Al plane in which the Italian Government served as an intermediary between Israel and Algeria, whose authorities held the aircraft along with the Israeli passengers and crewmen since July 23.
“Arab fighters” referred to members of El Fatah and other guerrilla organizations that have engaged in infiltration and sabotage against Israel. Since the Six-Day War about 1,400 marauders have been sentenced or are awaiting trial. The decision to release only pre-war infiltrators was apparently intended to discourage further hijackings.
Israeli technicians inspecting the hijacked El Al jet that was released by Algeria on Saturday have found two bullet holes in the plane’s interior. It was originally believed that one bullet was fired into the plane’s ceiling by a hijacker while chief pilot Capt. Oded Abarbanel was held at gunpoint and co-pilot Maoz Porez was struck with a gun butt. The second bullet hole was found in the door separating the pilots’ compartment from the passenger section of the aircraft. The inspectors said that both holes could not have been made by the same bullet. The Boeing 707 transport was reported to be in generally fair condition and is expected to re-enter service on Sept. 14.