TEL AVIV (Jun. 6)
The last Israeli prisoners of the Yom Kippur War stepped off a plane at Ben Gurion Airport this morning and into the arms of loved ones they had not seen for eight months. The 53 Israeli soldiers and three Bedouin civilians arrived from Damascus at 10 a.m. local time. The Red Cross chartered aircraft had no sooner landed when it was surrounded by hundreds of joyful relatives who surged past the barriers to embrace the returnees and hoist them on their shoulders. Premier Yitzhak Rabin who came to greet the freed POWs tore up his prepared speech. “Words are unnecessary. You can see what’s happening here.” he said.
Defense Minister Shimon Peres who was with Rabin and Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur said “This is the end of an important chapter in the history of Israel. I hope there will now be a somewhat more peaceful atmosphere for this generation.” Former Premier Golda Meir was also at the airport.
The final POWs exchange, following by 24 hours the signing of the last disengagement documents and maps by the Israeli and Syrian military working groups in Geneva, came exactly eight months to the day of the Syrian-Egyptian attack on Israel–Oct. 6, 1973. The returning POWs, whose welfare and very lives were cause for months of anxiety in Israel, seemed to be in good condition as they came off the plane. A few were tanned but most had a prison palor. Some wore military khakis and others shorts and colored shirts.
MEETS BABY DAUGHTER
One of the returnees, Ehud Lev Run, met his daughter who was born while he was a prisoner. “Seeing him hug and kiss the baby was compensation for all of our suffering,” his father, Dov Run said. His mother said, “I don’t know if I’m alive or dead. All I want is to go home and be alone with my son and talk to him.”
There was little inclination by the prisoners to talk of their experiences while at the airport. Relatives learned that they had been informed before landing of the recent political developments in the Middle East and the change of government in Israel. They said that during their eight months in prison they were allowed to study Arabic, English and mathematics.
The returned men were taken from the airport to a nearby military camp where they showered, had sandwiches and received new uniforms and a Bible. They will spend the weekend on leave with their families and report to a military convalescent home at Zichron Yaacov Sunday for orientation and physical examinations.
At approximately the same time the Israeli soldiers landed, a Red Cross chartered Jumbo Jet took off for Damascus with 382 freed Syrian, Moroccan and Iraqi POWs.
Later, the POWs told of mistreatment at the bands of their captors. One Air Force man described methods of torture he said the Syrians used in interrogating Israeli prisoners and his account was borne out by three Bedouin civilians who said they had undergone gruesome tortures. Other returnees said they suffered ill treatment during their first period of captivity but from Jan. on their treatment had improved.
The Air Force man said, however, that he had been subjected to constant interrogation almost until his last day on Syrian soil. He said that shortly after his capture he underwent surgery for his wounds. But less than two days after the operation, he was thrown into a tiny isolation cell and refused medical treatment even though his wounds were festering and he was running a high fever. He said the Syrians employed four methods of torture: beatings with canes on the back; beating the soles of the feet; focussing bright lights to burn the skin; and what he described as “other conventional methods.”