TEL AVIV (Feb. 28)
Shmuel Rosenwasser, a 52-year-old Israeli watchman who was kidnapped by terrorists from his post at Metullah on New Year’s Eve, 1969 to spend 424 days in captivity, was returned to Israel today, tired and bedraggled but delighted to be reunited with his family. Rosenwasser was released by his captors in exchange for a notorious terrorist, Mahmoud Hidjazi, who was serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison and who had originally been sentenced to death. The prisoner exchange was effected at the Lebanese border post of Ras el Nikura under the auspices of the International Red Cross. Rosenwasser, who had been moved from Jordan recently to a guerrilla encampment near Damascus, was escorted to the Israeli lines only after Hidjazi was placed in a car and driven into Lebanon. The Israeli was taken to a police station for a medical check-up and was then taken home to his wife and daughter who now live near Haifa. He told newsmen that he had no complaints about the conditions of this Imprisonment and that all he wanted now was to rest and be with his family.
Rosenwasser’s release followed prolonged negotiations during which the terrorists insisted that Israel negotiate directly with them through the Arab Red Crescent. Israel maintained that it would deal only with the authorities in Lebanon where Rosenwasser was taken initially by his captors before being moved to Jordan. Israel also insisted that it would only negotiate through the Red Cross. The first inkling that a “deal” was in the offing came last week when Israeli authorities advised Rosenwasser’s wife and teen-age daughter to postpone a trip to the United States where they planned to seek public support for Rosenwasser’s release. Freedom for the Hungarian-born Rosenwasser was purchased at a high price. Hidjazi, who was wounded and captured by Israelis in 1965, was considered one of the worst terrorist offenders. He was the first terrorist ever sentenced to death by an Israeli military tribunal. The change of sentence to life imprisonment came about after the death sentence was pronounced and Hidjazi agreed to cooperate with the authorities in exchange for a second trial.