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Twa Sets Up Special Staff in New York Office to Handle Inquiries About Hostages

Trans-World Airlines said today that it has had no information since Sept. 16 on the condition of 54 hijacked airline hostages who have been held captive by Palestinian terrorists in Jordan since Sept. 6. Thirty-six of the hostages were passengers and four were crew members of a TWA airliner hijacked on that date while on a flight from Tel Aviv to New York. A TWA spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that two of its representatives are in Amman and will remain there until all of the hostages are released. They are Richard Wilson, assistant to F.C. Wiser, TWA president, and Claude Girard, director of flight operations of TWA’s international region in Paris. The spokesman said that Mr. Wilson has not been heard from directly since Sept. 16 though messages from him have been relayed through the U.S. State Department. He said the last word about the hostages was that they were being held in a “liberated area” of Jordan. Relatives of the hostages have been phoning TWA regularly for information. The airline spokesman said that for a time there were “hundreds” of calls a day but the volume has abated somewhat in recent days. He said inquiries about the hostages were directed to the company’s reservation office in New York where a staff of 22 has been assigned to answer calls around the clock.

(State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey said in Washington today that 50 persons including nine Americans, have been evacuated from Jordan and arrived in Beirut. There are still about 400 Americans in Jordan including Embassy personnel and 38 of the hostages. The U.S. was reportedly considering a mass evacuation employing civilian aircraft of the Middle East Airlines which is partly owned by American interests.) (In Berne, Switzerland today, a coordinating committee of five nations whose citizens are among the hostages continued to meet on ways to secure their release. No progress was reported in negotiations between the International Red Cross and the terrorists which were broken off when heavy fighting erupted in Jordan last week.)

(A British Foreign Office spokesman indicated to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in London today that despite a newspaper report to the contrary, Britain had not decided to agree to the exchange of jailed commando Laila Khaled for the eight British hostages being held in Jordan by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. “Our position remains unchanged,” the spokesman said. “We are working for the release of the hostages through the group of five (in Berne, Switzerland), and whatever contacts are possible are handled by the Red Cross.” Regarding the Popular Front’s new designation of the 54 hostages as “prisoners of war,” the British spokesman said: “In our view they remain innocent passengers held captive.” Miss Khaled, the 24-year-old Haifa-born commando, was captured in an aborted attempt Sept. 6 to hijack an El Al airliner off the coast of England. The five nations meeting in Berne are Britain, Israel, the United States, West Germany and Switzerland. Prime Minister Edward Heath replied today to a letter on the crisis from Michael M. Fidler, MP and president of the Board of Jewish Deputies. Mr. Heath said the British, “consider it intolerable that the lives of innocent travelers should be exposed to risks of this kind” and that “we have been consulting urgently together (in Berne) on the best means of procuring (their) release.” On completion of that mission, the Prime Minister wrote in his “Dear Michael” letter, “we shall be considering what we can do in international efforts to prevent any recurrence of these incidents,” noting that “this cannot be done by any one government in Isolation.”)

(At the United Nations Israeli Ambassador Yosef Tekoah wrote to Secretary General Thant today to protest the “transparent attempt” to “harness the United Nations for dishonest purposes” that he said was evident in a Sept. 16 letter to Mr. Thant in which the Arab League condemned. Israel’s detention of 450 West Bank and Gaza Strip Arabs. Mr. Tekoah, without referring by name to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, called its hijackings “crimes against mankind (that) have enraged the civilized world.” He also condemned the “barbaric conditions” being suffered by the hostages. All of the 450 Arabs were released earlier this week.)

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