JERUSALEM (Dec. 26)
A sudden savage attack by two Arab terrorists against an El Al airliner at the Athens airport today, in which an Israeli engineer was killed and two stewardesses wounded, was denounced by Premier Levi Eshkol as an act of “insane terrorism” which was a danger not only to Israel air travellers “but to all people.”
Foreign Minister Abba Eban said on Kol Israel that the attack constituted a violation of one of the most important rights – the right of free airways and that he was convinced that world public opinion would be shocked by such “a murderous attack.” Officials of El Al said scheduled El Al flights had not been affected and that flights would continue as usual.
Athens airport police seized the terrorists soon after they fired at the airliner with submachine guns and hand grenades. The plane, with 51 passengers, had been awaiting permission for takeoff to Paris en route from Tel Aviv when the attack took place. The engineer, Leon Shurdan, 50, from Haifa, was killed by one of the bullets as he sat in his seat. Hana Spira, 21, one of the stewardesses, suffered a broken back and leg when she jumped from the plane. She was reported in serious condition in the hospital. Another stewardess suffered minor bullet wounds.
The assault caused damage to one engine of the Boeing 707 and touched off a small fire in the baggage section which was quickly put out. The plane then took off for Paris and was scheduled to arrive in New York City tonight shortly after midnight.
Menelaos Pegiadis, the Athens prosecutor, identified the gunmen as Naheb Suleiman, born in Tripoli of Palestinian parents, and Mahmoud Mohamad, born in Palestine in 1943. He said they had been charged with a variety of offenses, including intentional homicide, illegal carrying of arms, illegal use of arms and intentional damage of property. Under laws of the present Greek regime, the terrorists could be executed on conviction. Police said the Arabs said they were members of the El Fatah terrorist group and that they had flown to Athens from Beirut earlier in the day with the intention of destroying the jet and all its Israeli passengers.
(In New York, Rabbi Israel Miller, chairman of the American Zionist Council, said in a statement that “these insane actions will continue as long as the terrorists feel that American and world public opinion is on their side. Such periodicals as Life and Time which have glorified the Arab terror organizations, must assume their share of responsibility for such acts, which stem not from a genuine people’s resistance movement within Israel’s borders but from outside bands created and supported by reactionary Arab governments.”)
Sources in Israel said that the attack was carried out by members of the Egyptian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They said they were convinced that Egyptian authorities knew of the plans for the assault.
Mr. Eban instructed Israel’s representative in Athens, Jacob Karoz, to ask Greek officials for complete details of the attack and to keep Israel fully informed of actions taken against the two terrorists. Greece has never formally recognized Israel and there are no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.