JERUSALEM (Mar. 1)
Sharp differences appeared in the Cabinet recently when the government was asked to approve a prisoner exchange for the release of Shmuel Rosenwasser, the 59-year-old watchman who was returned to Israel yesterday after being held captive by Arab terrorists since he was kidnapped Dec. 31, 1969. According to today’s disclosure, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Transport Minister Shimon Peres and Police Minister Shlomo Hillel reportedly thought the price demanded for Rosenwasser’s freedom was too high. But they were out voted by a majority of their Cabinet colleagues. Rosenwasser was exchanged for a notorious terrorist, Mahmoud Hidjazi, who was serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison. Sources disclosed that Rosenwasser could have been freed much sooner had Israel agreed to El Fatah demands to negotiate with it through the Arab Red Crescent and to free several dozen terrorists in exchange. Israel offered to release only one terrorist and insisted on negotiating through the International Red Cross.
But even that offer was opposed by Dayan, Peres and Hillel on grounds that any exchange with the kidnappers would look like a surrender and could lead to more kidnappings. They argued that as long as Israel is at war, some individuals were likely to fall into enemy hands and this could not be prevented. Minister of Religious Affairs Zerach Warhaftig however took the view that it was in the Jewish tradition to “redeem captives” and his pleading apparently moved a majority of the Cabinet to approve the “deal.” The modest Rosenwasser home near Haifa was jammed with well-wishers and flowers last night as hundreds of people came to greet Rosenwasser after his 14-month captivity in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The former watchman at Metullah was re-united with his family yesterday. Their teenage daughter, Ounika, went to school today as usual and later distributed some of the flowers they received to neighbors. Sources here indicated today that ten Lebanese soldiers captured in an Israeli raid shortly after the Rosenwasser kidnapping may soon be returned to Lebanon. The soldiers are being held as prisoners of war.