LONDON (Sep. 13)
The fate of between 39 and 54 hostages still held by Arab terrorists somewhere in Jordan hung in the balance today after the commandoes released 255 hijacked passengers and crew members and then destroyed the three aircraft they seized and forced to fly to a deserted desert airstrip near Amman last week. The guerrillas, members of the Marxist oriented Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said yesterday they were holding 40 persons hostage but later they released a Dutch engineer. The engineer reported that there were a number of American Jews among the remaining captives but he did not make it clear whether they were persons holding dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship. The guerrillas said that the remaining hostages were all males, except for “about five” Israeli women alleged to belong to the Israeli army.
As has been true throughout the week since the hijackings last Sunday, reports on the number and nationalities of the hijack victims continued to be confused and contradictory. A Popular Front spokesman said the remaining hostages included 23 Israelis and Americans with dual citizenship. six Swiss, six West German and six British nationals, a total of 41. But other sources said the total still held “somewhere in Jordan” was 54. In addition, 18 passengers released in Amman yesterday, presumably women and children, remained there because they had relatives among the final detainees and wanted to await the outcome of negotiations for their release. (The released passengers were being flown to Nicosia and other Mediterranean points for transfer to planes of their respective countries. Several flights with released Americans aboard arrived at Kennedy airport last night and more were scheduled to arrive today for tearful re-unions with relatives, some of whom had waited for many hours.)
CONFUSION MARKS SUSPENSION OF RED CROSS RELEASE TALKS
Negotiations that had been going on most of last week between the terrorists and an International Red Cross team headed by Andre Rochet apparently broke down over the week-end. It was not clear whether this happened before or after the terrorists blew up the three jet airliners 13 hours before their deadline for the release of the hostages was to expire. There was some confusion today as to the status of negotiations. The guerrillas said they were holding the remaining hostages in exchange for seven Palestinian commandoes jailed in West Germany. Switzerland and Britain and for an unspecified number of prisoners in Israel. The three European governments are apparently prepared to free the Arabs, all of whom were jailed for previous attacks on airliners, but are reportedly standing firm on their demand that all the hostages be released simultaneously without regard to their nationality or religion. That demand was the basis of the negotiations conducted by the Red Cross According to unconfirmed reports, Israel was prepared to release an unspecified number of guerrillas in its custody. A demand on Israel from the terrorists was supposed to have been handed to the Red Cross but was not made public.
The British Government said yesterday that it was willing to release Laila Khaled, the 24 year-old girl commando taken into custody after an abortive attempt to hijack an El Al airliner off the British coast last Sunday. But Britain has not withdrawn from the position of the United States. Switzerland and West Germany which is opposed to a piecemeal ransom deal.
COUNTRIES INVOLVED REAFFIRM UNITED FRONT ON RELEASES
Authorities here were puzzled by the destruction of the three aircraft–a TWA 707, a Swiss air DC-8 and a BOAC VC-10 valued together at $25 million-a half day before the terrorists’ own deadline expired. The PFLP claimed that the aircraft were destroyed because of “a conspiracy by various imperialist powers to abort this operation.” The reference was to broadcast reports of large U.S. naval and air movements in the Eastern Mediterranean. (The Nixon Administration sought Friday to allay the terrorists’ fears of American military intervention. White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler characterized the movements of the U.S. Sixth Fleet as “routine precautions in such situations for evacuation purposes.” The Swiss Government met in emergency session in Berne yesterday. Chancellor Karl Huber said afterward that the destruction of the planes had not changed the demand of the four Western nations for the release of all the hostages regardless of nationality.) Reports here said the PFLP blew up the planes in advance of their deadline because of growing dissension with other Arab guerrilla groups. The Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella group representing nearly a dozen Palestinian commando organizations, suspended the PFLP from membership yesterday for the hijack and hostage operation which has aroused a storm of world opinion against the Arabs.