WASHINGTON (Apr. 28)
Two American journalists reported from Cairo today that Israel’s refusal to return a captured Egyptian pilot has brought to an impasse delicate international negotiations for the release of the last 200 stateless Jews remaining in Egyptian jails. According to Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, whose column appears in the Washington Post and other newspapers, Egypt was well along toward the final release of the Jews until an Egyptian fighter pilot was captured in the Sinai Desert after parachuting from his stricken MIG-21 last February or March. The pilot turned out to be the son of a high ranking Egyptian intelligence officer. The Egyptians want him back badly but the Israelis believe they can extract information from the pilot and are holding on to him, Evans and Novak said.
“As a result of this impasse, the stateless Jews, who with their families total some 800, are stuck at Bawaag (a barracks in the Nile delta) and negotiations involving at least five nations have come to a stop.” Foremost among the nations involved are Spain, whose Cairo Embassy represents United States interests in Egypt. It was thought that U.S. intercession would prevail upon Israel to exchange the pilot for the Jewish prisoners, the columnists said. They said that Spain offered to admit nearly 50 of the stateless Jews. France agreed to take 40, Italy 16 and Austria one. “Thirteen others were permitted to write ‘somewhere’ as their destination which is a euphemism for Israel, and 26 decided they wanted to stay in Egypt. It now appears that they will all stay in Egypt until Israel releases the pilot,” Evans and Novak wrote.
State Department officials denied the report that the U.S. Government interceded with Israel to seek the exchange of the captured pilot for the detained Jews. The officials said the report was inaccurate, distorted, and perhaps undermined the status of hapless Jews in Egypt.