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Israel Frees 75 Arab Suspects Cleared of Ties with Hijack Guerrillas

Israeli authorities today released 25 Arab women and 50 men who were among 450 residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip arrested over the week end on suspicion of membership in or collaboration with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Officials said that the 75 detainees were freed after questioning indicated that they had no connection with the PFLP. The others are still undergoing interrogation. The mass arrests were seen as a strategic move by Israel to strengthen its bargaining power with the Palestinian terrorists who still hold more than 50 hijacked airliner hostages in Jordan, most of them reportedly Israeli nationals or persons having dual Israeli-American citizenship. The move seemed calculated to provide Israel with potential hostages of its own should negotiations for the release of those held in Jordan break down.

There was uncertainty today as to who was conducting negotiations with the terrorists. The International Red Cross, which started them last week. reportedly bowed out yesterday when the head of its negotiating team in Amman, Andre Rochat, returned to Berne with an associate, leaving one IRC representative in the Jordanian capital. The Vatican reportedly stepped into the breach by dispatching a special Papal envoy, the Very Rev. Jean Rodhain, to Amman. But it was not clear whether he was representing the five nations–United States, Israel. Britain, Switzerland and West Germany–whose nationals are being held hostage. Reports from Amman today said the Arab Red Crescent had taken over from the Red Cross in contacts with the PFLP. (U.S. State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey insisted in Washington today that the IRC had not withdrawn and that it continued to represent the five powers in their efforts to secure the hostages’ release.)

Meanwhile, the Apostolic delegate in Jerusalem, Bishop Pio Laghi, went to Amman today to meet Mnsgr. Rodhain and reportedly to escort him back to Jerusalem. The Papal envoy said yesterday in Amman that he was given a list of 600 Arab guerrillas in Israeli jails whose release is demanded by the PFLP, to convey to Israeli authorities in Jerusalem. Israel has denied receiving any ransom demands from the terrorists, directly or indirectly. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned from reliable sources that Israeli authorities were piqued by the Vatican’s intervention. Israel reportedly informed the Vatican that it was highly appreciative of the Papal endeavors but considered them unsuitable to its purposes. The JTA was told that Israel made it clear to the Vatican that it was not willing to enter into any negotiations with the PFLP or any other terrorist organizations.

There have been no outward signs of wavering by the European powers on the terrorist demands. They have made it clear that they are prepared to release the Arabs in their custody but only under certain conditions, meaning that the terrorists must release all remaining hostages simultaneously, regardless of their nationality or religion. But Israeli officials are reportedly by no means certain that sentiment for a separate agreement might not prevail should the current negotiations reach an impasse. There was growing speculation over the week-end that Israel would re-introduce the death penalty which has not been invoked since the Eichmann trial in 1961. Some observers here thought that these speculations were part of a war of nerves to counter terrorist threats to the Israeli hostages. There was no response to the Israeli arrests from the PFLP in Jordan. But a spokesman in Beirut threatened “unimaginable” reprisals against Israel. In addition to the latest detainees there are between 3700-3800 Arab terrorists or suspected terrorists in Israeli prisons. Some are serving sentences and others are awaiting trial. They reportedly include about 300 known PFLP members.

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