FEARED ENVOY MIGHT HAVE BEEN SHOT
Hurly said soldiers in Maalot refused to let him approach the terrorists to try to get an extension of the deadline. Officials in Jerusalem said that since he did not know the code word, he would have been shot had he tried to approach the school building. But no one explained why the French envoy was not permitted to hail the terrorists through a loudspeaker as the Israelis themselves were doing.
Hurly said he did not think the Israelis tried to delay his arrival at Maalot which he reached at about 5 p.m. yesterday. “But I still ask myself what could have been done between 5 and 6 o’clock and was not done,” he said in his interview. It appeared likely that by the time the Ambassador arrived at Maalot the decision had already been taken to storm the school building because it was, by then, too late to carry out the terrorists’ demands before their deadline.
The Foreign Ministry document, read to the Israeli Cabinet at 2:55 p.m. yesterday contained a message from the French government which had heard from the terrorist command in Damascus. In it, a terrorist leader known as “Abu Avid” spelled out conditions for an exchange. These included the following:
“When the 20 (freed terrorists) get to Damascus, the command will give the code word to the French Embassy which will transmit it to the French Embassy in Tel Aviv which will transmit it…” to the French Ambassador in Maalot. That message made it clear that no code word was to be delivered until the released terrorists were safely in Damascus. Only then would Ambassador Hurly give the code word and secure the release of half of the hostages. The other half was to go with the three Maalot terrorists to Ben Gurion Airport where they would be released once the terrorists were safely aboard a plane.
With regard to the Rumanian Ambassador’s role, the Foreign Ministry’s account confirmed Peres’ account. A message received by the Israeli government from Bucharest at 2:30 p.m. said the Rumanian envoy was selected by the terrorists to be the sole mediator and that once he reported back to Bucharest that Israel had agreed in principle to the terrorists’ demands, he would receive a code word that would enable him to start negotiations at Maalot. (By David Landau and Tovia Mendelson)