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Report Syria May Be Ready for Pow Exchange; Trying to Persuade Egypt

The unexpected visit to Cairo yesterday by President Hafez Assad of Syria may indicate an attempt by the Damascus regime to persuade Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to agree to a general prisoner-of-war exchange with Israel, sources here said today. The speculation stemmed from Syria’s known eagerness to have a Brig. Gen, and four colonels captured during an Israeli raid into Lebanon June 21 returned. Israel has said it would consider returning the five high ranking intelligence officers and a captured Lebanese captain only within the framework of a general POW exchange that would include Israeli prisoners held by Damascus and Cairo.

(A United Nations spokesman in New York reported that the Ambassadors of Syria and Lebanon met with Secretary General Kurt Waldheim in Geneva today and urged him to “use his good offices to free the Lebanese and Syrian officers taken by Israeli forces from Lebanese territory.” According to a UN spokesman, the two countries did not renew their call for a Security Council meeting on the issue. He said Dr. Waldheim also met with the Israeli Charge d’Affaires in Geneva.)

A Foreign Ministry spokesman here said yesterday that Waldheim has not contacted Israel with regard to a POW exchange. Dr. Waldheim had said earlier that he would use his good offices to bring one about.

Foreign Minister Abba Eban told the Cabinet yesterday that he was satisfied with reports from New York that the Security Council has postponed for a week the session asked for by Syria and Lebanon on Israel’s refusal to release the captured officers. He said the Western members of the Council sympathized with Israel’s position which calls for a general POW exchange or none.

Israel holds 45 Syrians, 61 Egyptians and five Lebanese POWs which it is prepared to exchange for three Israeli pilots shot down over Syria and ten Israeli pilots and other military personnel held by Egypt. Damascus has been making unusual efforts to get its five officers returned and, along with Lebanon, has asked last week for another meeting of the UN Security Council for the purpose. The Security Council’s June 26 resolution censuring Israel for its raid against terrorist bases in Lebanon demands the immediate release of the Syrian officers.

Assad flew to Cairo on his way home from Moscow and met with Sadat for three hours in closed session. Their talk was described officially as concerning the “battle of the Arab nations against Israel” and the results of Assad’s Moscow visit.

It was disclosed here today that the Israel government consulted with the families of the 13 Israeli POWs in Egypt and Syria before adopting its stand which insists on a general POW exchange. The Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Gen. David Elazar, reportedly explained personally to each of the families why Israel refused a Syrian offer to exchange the three pilots for the five intelligence officers and the families were said to have agreed with the government’s position.

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