PLO Says It is Holding 8 Israeli Soldiers As Prisoners of War

The Palestine Liberation Organization said in Damascus today that it holds eight Israeli soldiers missing from a forward observation outpost in Central Lebanon since Saturday. The PLO announcement said the soldiers were prisoners of war, were “well heated” and would be visited by a representative of the International Red Cross at some unspecified date.

Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon warned Syria over the weekend that it would be held responsible for the disappearance of the soldiers and would suffer the consequences if they are harmed. The soldiers apparently were captured by PLO elements operating from behind Syrian lines in Lebanon. Their tracks and those of their captors were found leading toward Syrian-held territory.

(In Israel today, the commanding general of the northern front confirmed that the Israeli soldiers had been taken into an area controlled by Syria but said it was not certain who captured them. He said the Syrians would be held responsible for the incident. He said the army was drawing certain conclusions from the capture but did not elaborate. An officer from the Israeli unit involved has been removed. The general said this was not “directly or solely due” to the incident.)

CAPTURED BY PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN GROUP

The PLO announcement said the Israelis were captured by a Palestinian group calling itself “The August 23rd Organization,” a previously unknown group. The date appears to refer to the election of Bashir Gemayel as President of Lebanon.

The PLO claimed the soldiers were captured without violence, implying that none of them were wounded. Israeli sources have expressed surprise that there was no evidence that the soldiers put up a fight. The sources suggested that the men may have relaxed their vigilance because of the relative calm in the area and were taken by surprise.

The Committee of the International Red Cross (IRC) in Geneva told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it has not yet been informed of the capture nor has it been invited to visit the prisoners. Sources close to the IRC said the PLO moved slowly and it might take several days before arrangements are made for a Red Cross delegate to see the men.

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