JERUSALEM (Feb. 2)
A Moscow radio broadcast monitored here today said that Iraq was “fully justified” in hanging 14 alleged spies, nine of them Jews, in Baghdad and Basra last Monday. In the first Soviet comment on the hangings, the broadcast charged that the executions were being exploited by “imperialist and Zionist propaganda machines” and referred to “terrible crimes” by Israeli occupation forces in Arab territory. A majority of the Arab world appeared revolted by the brutal public executions although not necessarily with the motivation for them. The chief concern in Cairo, Beirut and other Arab capitals seemed to be that the Baghdad spectacle had increased world sympathy for Israel at a time when world opinion was beginning to favor the Arabs as a result of Israel’s Dec. 28 reprisal raid on Beirut Airport.
The semi-official Cairo daily Al Ahram, which often reflects the opinions of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, commented: “The hanging of 14 people in public squares is certainly not a heart-warming sight, nor is it an occasion for organizing a festival and issuing invitations.” The paper was replying to Iraqi complaints that the Arab states did not come to their defense against the storm of world protests. But the newspaper thought that Iraq had “a sound case” for convicting the alleged spies.
The Moroccan news agency, Maghreb Arabe Presse, called the hangings “a lamentable spectacle and a monumental psychological error.” The Star, an English-language newspaper in Beirut, called the executions a “bloody orgy” that “sickened the heart of every thinking Arab.” but said that Israel had no right to retaliate because the executed men were Iraqi citizens.
In Baghdad yesterday, Information Minister Abdullah Salloum Samarri said new spy trials would begin shortly–they had previously been reported under way–and pledged that his Government would “hang convicted spies in the public squares” regardless of world opinion. In the new trials 35 Jews are accused of spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Samarri said Baghdad would show “leniency” toward Paul T. Bail, of Conneautville, Pa., American oil engineer arrested last month on suspicion of being an “Israeli spy.”
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol pledged to a group of Iraqi immigrants that Israel would spare no effort to ease the plight of Jews in Iraq and other Arab lands. Israeli envoys in various countries have asked foreign governments to seek ways to have them transported to nearby countries from which they could emigrate. A number of Israeli Arab leaders protested the hangings as “nothing but education for bloodshed, fit for blood-thirsty canibals.” Israeli officials said they would seek a United Nations-supervised evacuation of Iraqi Jews. The newspaper Maariv reported that Israel asked several Western nations to let Iraq know that further executions would do them “serious damage” for which Israel would accept responsibility, but officials denied the report, saying Israel would not give Iraq an excuse for further harming its captive Jewish population.
Meanwhile, spokesmen for the major Christian faiths in Israel have gone to Amman, Jordan, to seek clemency for two West Bank Arab taxi drivers recently sentenced to death as spies. Pope Paul has also reportedly intervened on behalf of Anton Nasser and Zuheir Abu Rodeina.