TEL AVIV (Jul. 24)
Israel released 100 prisoners from the Atlit detention camp today, most of them Lebanese Shiites. They were transported by bus to the northern perimeter of the security zone in south Lebanon and set free. Those who live in the security zone must apply to the Israel Defense Force liaison officer for permission to return.
After today’s release, and the release of 300 Shiite prisoners earlier this month, about 335 remain in Atlit. They will be freed, in batches, over the next few weeks, according to plan, the Israeli authorities said. All of the Atlit detainees were transferred there from the Ansar prison camp in south Lebanon which the IDF closed prior to its withdrawal from Lebanon last month.
The transfer raised a storm of criticism against Israel for violating the Geneva Convention which for bids the transfer of prisoners of war out of the country where they were captured during hostilities. Israel maintained the detainees were not POWs but security risks and would be released at regular intervals depending on the security situation in south Lebanon. The release of the first group was delayed last month by the hijack of TWA Flight 847 by Shiite extremists who held 39 Americans hostage in Beirut for 17 days. Israel did not wish to appear to be giving in to the hijackers’ demand that it free all 766 Atlit prisoners in exchange for the hostages.