JERUSALEM (Sep. 26)
Israel will seek extradition of three terrorists who murdered an Israeli navy veteran, his wife and their friend aboard a yacht docked at a marina in Larnaca, Cyprus Wednesday. The victims, Reuven Paltsur, 53, his wife, Esther, 50, of Haifa, and Avraham Avneri, of Arad, were shot to death. Their bodies were flown to Israel today for burial tomorrow.
The terrorists surrendered to Cypriot authorities about 10 hours after they seized the yacht in what appeared to be an attempt to take the Israelis hostage. Elias Georgidis, a Cypriot government spokesman, identified them as Elias Yehiya and Nasif Mahmoud, both 22 and George Hannah, 27. The three claimed to be Palestinians but had no documents to prove their identity. According to reports from Larnaca, one is believed to be German.
Premier Shimon Peres, Acting Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and Justice Minister Moshe Nissim conferred early Thursday morning. Immediately afterwards, Nissim instructed Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir to draw up the necessary documents for extradition.
POSSIBLE OBSTACLE TO EXTRADITION
While Israel and Cyprus have no mutual extradition treaty, both countries are among the 16 signatories to the European Economic Community’s (EEC) general extradition agreement whereby any one of them can request the extradition of a person who has committed a crime against a national of the other.
The only obstacle in the way of extradition will arise if the Cypriot authorities claim the murders were politically motivated, in which case extradition can be denied. The killers have been remanded in custody for eight days by a Larnaca court pending trial.
KILLERS SOUGHT RELEASE OF CAPTURED PLO PRISONERS
It is generally assumed in Israel that the killers belong to Force 17, the elite unit of El Fatah, the terrorist arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization which has recently carried out “showcase” terrorist acts. The PLO disclaimed responsibility. But Israeli sources said this may be because the gunmen failed in their mission. It apparently was to hold the three Israelis aboard the yacht hostage for Israel’s release of about 20 PLO terrorists, including ranking members of Force 17, captured at sea by the Israel Navy in recent weeks.
The captured terrorists had been enroute to Lebanon from where they planned to infiltrate Israel, according to documents in their possession. Israel is skeptical of the PLO disclaimer because persons purporting to speak for Force 17 telephoned the Jerusalem office of the French news agency, Agence France Presse, two weeks ago saying they were planning to retaliate for the Navy’s seizures.
An anonymous telephone call to the same news agency Wednesday claimed Force 17 took over the Israeli yacht in Larnaca because the three Israelis aboard were secret agents monitoring the movements of Palestinian boats between Cyprus and Lebanon while posing as tourists. Israeli sources flatly denied the allegation. The murders occurred Yom Kippur morning but were not reported here until Israel Radio resumed broadcasting at 7 p.m. last night, after the Day of Atonement. Many Israelis who tuned into the BBC hourly news heard of the attack at 9 a.m. yesterday.
The murder victims left Haifa September 16 on a short holiday cruise to Cyprus. On arrival at Larnaca they tied up at the tourist marina. There were perhaps a dozen other Israeli yachts at the marina at the time, along with Lebanese yachts.
KILLERS WERE HEAVILY ARMED
According to reports from Cyprus, the gunmen, armed with Kalachnikof assault rifles, Browning automatics, pistols and grenades, boarded the Israeli yacht at about 4:30 a.m. local time yesterday. Apparently they encountered Esther Paltsur who appeared to have put up a struggle. She was the first to be shot. Her body clad only in a nightgown, was left lying on the deck for 10 hours, until the gunmen surrendered.
Cypriot police are not certain when Paltsur and Avneri were murdered. Their bodies were found in the yacht’s cabin when police boarded the vessel at 2 p.m. Both men were bound hand and foot and each was shot several times in the head. It was not certain whether they were already dead when the killers began bargaining for the release of the Force 17 men held by Israel.
At their demand, the Cypriot Interior Minister, Dinos Michaelides, came to the marina to negotiate, as did the Egyptian Ambassador to Cyprus and two representatives of the PLO from Nicosia, the capital. At one point the terrorists threatened to blow up the yacht if their demands were not met. They set at 10 a.m. deadline but did not carry out the threat. They threw down their weapons and surrendered at 1:55 p.m.
Israel’s Ambassador to Cyprus, Meir Gavish, who was on home leave, flew to Cyprus in an Air Force plane yesterday accompanied by army communications experts. By the time they landed, the three Israelis had been found dead and the Ambassador returned home.
The Cypriot government sent a message of condolence to the government and people of Israel. The message also stated that Cyprus did not want to be dragged into a conflict between other parties but wished to live in peace with all.
Paltsur, who owned the yacht, was described by friends Thursday as a dedicated sailorwho served in the Israel Navy and was active in the Sea Scouts and other movements promoting seafaring among Israelis.