WASHINGTON (Jun. 17)
The Reagan Administration stressed today that it will make no concessions to Shiite Moslem terrorists holding hijacked American airline passengers hostage in Beirut and indicated it will not ask Israel to make concessions.
Secretary of State George Shultz declared, in a statement read to reporters by State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb, that “we will not make deals with terrorists and will not encourage others to do so.” This was taken as a reference to Israel which has been confronted with demands by the hijackers to release 700 Shiite prisoners from the Atlit detention camp near Haifa in exchange for more than 30 Americans from the hijacked TWA flight 847.
“Hijacking and other forms of terrorism are unacceptable in any civilized society. We call upon those holding hostages to treat them properly and to release them immediately,” Shultz said. Apart from reading Shultz’s statement, Kalb refused to answer questions pertaining to the hijack situation.
The Administration position was also conveyed by Presidential press secretary Larry Speakes at the White House whose remarks were almost identical to those of Shultz. “We do not make concessions and we do not encourage others to make concessions. We do not ask others to do what we would not do,” Speakes said. He said the Administration has not been in direct contact with Israel over the crisis and is not trying to influence the Israelis.
MCFARLANE SPOKE TO BERRI
Speakes confirmed that National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane has spoken by telephone to Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite militia, Amal, who is Minister of Justice in the Lebanese government. Berri apparently has assumed the role of intermediary with the hijackers.
Speakes emphasized that McFarlane’s call to the Shiite leader was not to negotiate but to make clear that the U.S. holds the hijackers responsible for the fate of the hostages. He said the U.S. does not regard Berri as a mediator.
Berri was also reported today to have sent messages to United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar informing him of the hijackers’ demands and to ask him to do whatever he could to help in the situation. De Cuellar is said to have been in contact yesterday with the U.S. and Israeli Ambassadors to the UN, Vernon Walters and Binyamin Netanyahu respectively.
According to reports from Beirut this morning, the hostages, all males, were removed from the TWA Boeing 727 airliner at Beirut airport and dispersed to unknown locations. The transfer was said to have taken place last night after news media personnel left the airport at the demand of the hijackers.
The Administration confirmed yesterday that at least six Americans with “Jewish-sounding names” were removed from the main body of hostages Saturday. Their whereabouts are unknown nor it is known who their captors are. Speakes said today that he could not confirm that the bulk of the hostages were no longer aboard the aircraft and had been taken to secret hideouts, as reported by Beirut Radio.
The hijack drama began last Friday when Flight 847, originating in Cairo, was seized by armed gunmen who boarded the aircraft at Athens and hijacked it while en-route to Rome. During the ensuing 48 hours the plane was forced to fly twice to Algiers and three times to Beirut. Most of the 145 passengers, mainly women and children, and some of the flight crew were freed during the repeated landings. One American passenger, described variously as a U.S. Marine and a Navy diver, was badly beaten and then shot to death by the hijackers.
Their demand for the release of the Shiite prisoners captured in Lebanon by the Israel Defense Force involved Israel directly in the crisis.
The prisoners are not terrorists but guerrillas who attacked IDF units in the process of withdrawing from south Lebanon during the past few months. Israel reportedly plans to release them in stages, now that the withdrawal has been completed.
DIFFICULT DECISION FOR ISRAEL
But it would be difficult for Israel to free them under pressure from the hijackers. Only last month Israel released 1,150 convicted Palestinian terrorists in return for three of its soldiers held captive by terrorists in Damascus. That lopsided trade-off has been severely criticized in Israel and abroad. Many Israelis believe it was a contributing factor in the TWA hijack.
The hijackers are said to be members of Hizbollah (Army of God), Islamic fanatics outside the Shiite mainstream who are said to be influenced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran. Hizbollah was responsible for suicide attacks on the IDF in Lebanon. The hijackers have also been identified as members of the Islamic Jihad (Holy War) dedicated to making war on Zionism, Christianity, Israel, the U.S. and communism.