TEL AVIV (Apr. 24)
Israel is in the opening stage of indirect contacts with Syria for a prisoner-of-war exchange, Defense Minister Moshe Arens disclosed in a radio interview yesterday. He said the contacts were established through the International Red Cross.
“We have the beginning of contacts to reach a prisoner exchange and we hope we will be able to finalize this,” Arens said. “We have the impression that there is a general readiness on their (Syrian) side.” He did not say whether a POW exchange would be confined to Syria or include the Syrian-backed Palestine Liberation Organization dissident groups.
The Syrians hold three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon who would presumably be exchanged for 290 Syrian soldiers held by Israel. Four more Israeli soldiers are prisoners of PLO dissidents and six Israeli soldiers are still listed as missing in Lebanon. There are presently about 2,700 Arabs in Israeli prisons convicted of terrorist acts or other security offenses.
SUPPORTS ARMY’S CLAIM ON TERRORIST HIJACKERS
On another matter, Arens said he had no reason to disbelieve the army’s claim that all four terrorists in the April 12 bus hijack were killed or fatally wounded when troops stormed the vehicle to release its passengers who were being held hostage. According to some media reports, one of the terrorists was seen being led away from the bus by plainclothes Israeli security men, apparently unharmed at the time. All four terrorists were buried on April 15.
The implication was that one terrorist was killed after being captured. The army says two terrorists were killed instantly and two others died of their wounds a short time later. Arens said the army was routinely examining the incident and would submit a full report to him shortly.