JERUSALEM (Jun. 19)
Police Minister Haim Barlev, a member of the Inner Cabinet, said today that the Shiites held in jail in Israel were “a question in no way connected with” the hijacked TWA plane.
“This is not connected,” he told an interviewer. “This plane is an American plane, and the passengers are American citizens. The plane did not originate in Israel, and it is not on the ground in Israel. It is not our affair. It is not related to this whole business of the 700 Shiite detainees.
Barlev’s statement was the latest reaffirmation of the steady Israeli position on the hijack issue.
Some observers construed it, though, as hinting at the possibility that Israel, in due time, would go ahead with its prior plans to free all or most of the Shiite detainees — explaining that their release had been pre-planned and was not connected to the hijack. There is speculation here, that a phased release of the Shiites may begin next week.
Israeli officials informed newsmen a fortnight ago to stand by for the release of 341 of the Shiites. But the release did not eventually take place — apparently because of the kidnap incident involving II South Lebanese army soldiers who ended up in the captivity of the Shiite Amal militia. Nabih Berri’s demands at that time that the 700 be freed were said by Israel to be counterproductive and to actually set back their impending release.