JERUSALEM (Jun. 6)
Gen. David Elazar, Chief of Staff of Israel’s armed forces, flatly denied yesterday a charge by the Syrian Defense Ministry that Israel had mistreated Syrian prisoners of war. “There is no truth in the alleged claims,” Elazar said in an interview published in the newspaper Yediot Acharonot. He said the Syrians were “throwing sand in the eyes to divert attention from the charges by three returned Israeli PWs that they had been systematically tortured during their three years of captivity in Syria.
The Syrian Defense Ministry made its charges Monday following Sunday’s exchange of three downed Israeli fighter pilots for 46 Syrian PWs, five high ranking officers among them. Israel also returned 10 Lebanese PWs. According to Damascus, the returned PWs claimed that they had been subjected to physical and psychological torture by the Israelis and that they were denied medical treatment.
Elazar said he was at Amadieyeh Junction on the Golan Heights last Sunday morning when the Israeli-Syrian PW exchange took place under Red Cross-supervision. He said he personally greeted the Syrians and wished them well on their return to their country. He said he specifically asked them how they were treated and they replied: “We were treated quite well,” Elazar said.
He said the only complaint he heard from one of the Syrian PWs was that they were blindfolded after they were taken prisoner and until they reached the PW camp in Israel. The Syrian thought that was “unbecoming for officers.”
Elazar said that, on the other hand, the three Israeli PWs suffered horribly at the hands of their captors. “The Syrian treatment of PWs is well known, but I never thought their cruelty would reach such extremes. Our pilots were systematically beaten,” he said.