WASHINGTON (Dec. 19)
Pentagon sources have expressed the view that Syria’s refusal to release a list of Israeli POWs or let any International Red Cross representative visit the POW camps may be due to the fact that there may be no Israeli POWs alive in Syria. While these sources were careful to say that they have no immediate empirical evidence, the intransigence of the Syrians appears to be a cover – up for what is feared by these sources to have been a wholesale massacre of more than 100 Israeli soldiers who were captured during the Yom Kippur War.
The State Department said today that it has received reports that the Syrians murdered all Israeli prisoners but could not confirm this. Department spokesman Paul Hare said he was not referring to any specific report when he was asked if he was discussing statements attributed to Pentagon sources. He said he was speaking only in the “general sense.” Other State Department sources, however, said the Department had received “other reports” which they described as “more than press reports.” These sources would not amplify.
One non-Pentagon source expressed what he termed his “gut reaction” by saying: “I might be persuaded to go along with the Syrian view that the exchange of prisoners should await the outcome of the Geneva talks, but I cannot be persuaded that a list of names cannot be provided right now if for no other reason than to dispel any suspicions about the fate of the Israeli soldiers. I have a gnawing feeling that the refusal on the part of Syria to even provide a list of names is an ill omen.”
According to unofficial reports from Damascus this morning the Syrians claim that Israeli soldiers had been killed after they were taken prisoners but that the killing was the work of Moroccan and Iraqi troops who were in Syria during the war. The reports also claimed that some Syrian soldiers were themselves killed in the act of trying to protect Israeli prisoners. Observes here, however, tended to discount this version noting that this seems to be a last minute argument to stave off further international pressure and to avoid diplomatic entanglements should Syria decide to show up at the Geneva talks after all.