Israel Government Silently Watches Stand-off over Twa Hijacking As Terrorists Demand Prisoner Releas

The latest aerial hijack crisis still unfolding in Beirut today has involved Israel in a bizarre international stand-off that may require its government to make agonizing decisions.

The hijacked aircraft, a TWA Boeing 727, was in Beirut as of this morning with more than 40 hostages aboard, all or most of them Americans. The hijackers, Shiite Moslem extremists of the Islamic Jihad, demand that Israel immediately release some 700 Shiite guerrillas captured in Lebanon in exchange for the lives of the hostages.

Israel only last month freed 1,150 Palestinian terrorists serving long jail sentences for the return of three Israeli soldiers held captive by Damascus-based Palestinian terrorists. The move, controversial at the time, has since been increasingly condemned as one of the gravest mistakes Israel has ever made.

PERES IMPOSES GAG RULE ON MINISTERS

Israel is now confronted with the possibility that the U.S. may ask it to comply with the hijackers’ demands to save the lives of Americans on the plane. The Cabinet met today in secret session on the matter. A statement issued later said only that the Defense Minister had reported to the Cabinet “within the framework of the Ministerial Defense Committee” and that Premier Shimon Peres had asked all ministers and other officials to refrain entirely from public comment.

It was understood, from unofficial sources, that ministerial consultations were continuing throughout the day.

REAGAN OPPOSES GIVING IN TO DEMANDS

(In Washington, President Reagan returned from his Camp David weekend retreat to head a National Security Council meeting on the situation. He warned that the hijackers will “see for their own sake, they’d better turn these people loose.”

(Asked whether Israel should release its Shiite prisoners as the hijackers demand, Reagan replied, “This is a decision for them to make and a decision isn’t so simple as just trading prisoners.” But, he added, “the decision is at what point can you pay off the terrorists without endangering people from here on out once they find that their tactics succeed.

(Robert Sims, a White House spokesman, told reporters that while the U.S. does not yield to terrorist demands, ” We are willing to talk to those who have the hostages, either directly or indirectly through intermediaries.”)

Well placed observers believe that if Washington asked for the release of the Shiite guerrillas, Israel would have to agree. It could hardly face the repercussions of American opinion if it refused a request by the Reagan Administration and the American hostages were killed, the observers said.

But if Israel acceded the political repercussions at home could be unbearable for the shaky Labor-Likud national unity government. Meir Amit, former chief of Mossad, the secret service, and former chief of military intelligence, said in an Army Radio interview today that the government must at all costs stand firm and not yield to the hijackers’ blackmail.

The dilemma is complicated by reports that hostages with “Jewish sounding names” were separated from the main body of hostages and removed from the plane to an unknown location where they are being held by unknown captors. Sources said that if Israel were to make a “deal” everyone of the hostages would have to be released.

The hijack is the first in many years involving an American aircraft in the Middle East. TWA Flight 847 originated in Cairo and was hijacked over Greece Friday while enroute from Athens to Rome. Originally there were 153 persons aboard, 145 of them passengers including about 100 Americans.

CAPTURED TERRORIST RELEASED

The hijackers forced the plane to Beirut where 17 women and two children were released in exchange for fuel. It was then forced to fly to Algiers. There 22 more passengers were set free and the plane returned to Beirut. Yesterday morning it was back in Algiers and 60 more passengers were freed after the Greek government released a terrorist accomplice recently arrested in Athens. This morning the plane was again in Beirut with the remaining hostages, all believed to be male.

The Islamic Jihad, whose Lebanese adherents seized the plane, is known as a terrorist gang under the influence of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran which is waging “holy war” against Zionism, Christianity, capitalism and communism. They have proven in the past to be fanatics likely to carry out their threats even if it costs their lives.

Nevertheless, Amit, speaking on Galei Zahal Radio today, declared that Israel must “overcome” the moral dilemma created by the fact that it recently released more than a thousand Palestinian terrorists for three of its soldiers. He made it clear that he deplored that decision and believed it was a contributory factor in the current hijack crisis. Israel, Amit said, must revert to its earlier policy of never giving in to terrorist blackmail.

“The price of blackmail is much higher than the price of firmness,” the former Mossad chief said. Amit, who is chairman of the giant Histadrut-owned Koor Industries, also noted that as a frequent world traveller he found security at some airports “unbelievably bad.” He said he was convinced that most hijack attempts could be prevented by proper precautions.

He also urged concerted international action against hijacking by governments and by the airline pilots organization, the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA). He recalled that when he served in the government as Minister of Transport in 1977-78 he found the IFALPA “is not prepared to cooperate” against hijacking by refusing to fly to countries that give haven to hijackers.

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