JERUSALEM (Jun. 9)
The Cabinet decided today to make public a full dossier containing details of Syrian brutality and torture of Israeli prisoners of war. Information Minister Aharon Yariv announced the decision today. He said the dossier would be published as soon as the debriefing of returned Israeli POWs is completed which, he said, would be done as speedily as possible.
Yariv said the Government planned to contact “international bodies” with a view to taking “further steps.” He said the Cabinet expressed its deep appreciation for the brave way in which the POWs stood up to their “tormentors” and “condemned utterly, in anger and disgust, this inhuman conduct by the Syrians.”
The accounts of torture were related by the last of the Israeli POWs who returned from Syria Thursday. Yaariv said the debriefings have made it clear that the torture was systematic and premeditated rather than haphazard, occasional acts by Syrian jailors and interrogators– although sadism did apparently play a part in it. It appeared from the accounts that the Syrians reserved their worst torture methods for downed Air Force men.
An Israeli Army spokesman denied categorically allegations by returned Syrian POWs that they had been mistreated in Israeli prisons. The Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of POWs were scrupulously adhered to by Israeli prison authorities and in some instances the treatment of the Syrian POWs was better and more humane than prescribed by the conventions, he said.
TWO RELEASED FROM LEBANON
Two Israeli pilots, captured in Lebanon when their Phantom jet was shot down near the Syrian-Lebanese border two months ago, were returned yesterday morning. The flyers, Amir Rafaeli and Yifrah Shadmi, were met at the Rosh Hanikra border post by Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur and Air Force Commander Gen. Banyamin Peled. They described their treatment by the Lebanese as “fifty-fifty” and said it improved markedly in the last eight days when they could “sense” that they were about to be released. Two other Israeli POWs in Lebanon were freed last week but no announcement was made at the time, it was learned today. The Israeli prisoners were exchanged for 11 Lebanese civilians and one gendarme captured by Israeli forces during a commando raid into southern Lebanon after the April 11 Kiryat Shemona massacre.
The returned Israelis seemed reluctant to describe in detail the kind of torture they underwent in Syrian hands. Capt. Ami Rokah, a downed Mirage pilot, said he didn’t want to “upset my parents.” He told reporters however that “the first months were very difficult.” He said that for a month and a half he had been blind folded and interrogated endlessly by the Syrians in Hebrew and English. “They used to torture me to extract information but also for the pleasure of it,” Capt. Rokah said.
He said that he and other pilots were beaten on their ears to make them physically unable to fly again. Other returned POWs spoke of long periods of solitary confinement, the application of electric shock, the use of high intensity lamps to blind the prisoners or to burn sensitive parts of their bodies and beatings with sticks. One returned pilot, an amputee, said he had balled out of his plane safely and was in good condition when the Syrians captured him. But the torture he suffered under interrogation caused severe wounds in his lower leg which had to be amputated, he said.
The accounts of torture by returned soldiers and air men were borne out by three Israeli Bedouin civilians the Syrians captured when they attacked Israel last Oct. 6. They said they were tortured brutally, starved and constantly questioned. They said a fourth Bedouin captive, an elderly man, had died from the mistreatment and lack of medical attention.
Israeli sources noted today that as bad as their treatment was, the returned Israeli prisoners were in much better condition than other Israelis who had fallen into Syrian hands in past years and returned completely broken in body and mind.