TEL AVIV (Nov. 9)
Mystery compounded by confusion surrounds the 40-foot yacht Silco and its passengers, hijacked at sea Sunday off the Gaza coast, apparently by terrorists of the dissident Abu Nidal faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The 17-ton vessel and its eight passengers six adults and two children — were brought to Moslem West Beirut. At a news conference there, a spokesman for the Abu Nidal gang, Walid Khaled, claimed that some of the passengers carried Israeli passports and described the children as Hebrew-speaking.
The names of the adults were released. A thorough check of the Israel Interior Ministry’s computer index of identity cards failed to match any of the names with Israeli citizens. Israelis must have ID cards to obtain passports.
A preliminary check of visitors and tourists failed to come up with the names. The Ports Authority and the various marinas in Israel confirmed that the Silco had not called at an Israeli port, though it might have been en route to Israel when seized.
Khaled said at his news conference that the episode was “a slap for the Zionized king of Amman,” a reference to King Hussein of Jordan, and for the “Zionized leaders” participating in the Arab summit conference now taking place in Amman.
TIMED TO COINCIDE WITH SUMMIT
Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Monday that the seizure of the yacht was clearly timed to coincide with the Arab summit and planned to draw attention to the Abu Nidal faction. He said that if it was hijacked, as claimed, it was not in Israeli territorial waters, which the terrorists dare not approach for fear of Israel’s navy.
Nevertheless, the time has come for the world to realize there are terrorists organizations trying to sabotage even the slightest positive movement in the Middle East, Rabin said.
He said Israel is in contact with the governments of France and Belgium, whose nationals were said to be among the hijacked passengers.
The names released by the Abu Nidal spokesman Sunday night are Fernand Houtekins, 40; Emmanuel Houtekins, 42; Valerie Emmanuel Houtekins, 16; Laurent Emmanuel Houtekins, 17; Godlieve Kets; and Jacqueline Valente, 30, described as a French national.
In Paris, French authorities said they had no information about any of the passengers. But the Belgian Interior Ministry confirmed Monday that Emmanuel Houtekins; his wife, Godlieve, 48, born Kets — possibly Katz — and their children, Valerie and Laurent, are Belgian citizens, but are believed to live in Lyon, France.
French officials said the four Belgians are not registered in Lyon or anywhere else in France. They have not been able to trace a French woman named Valente.
French naval authorities said the Silco is not registered in France, but is on record as having put into Cannes in the summer of 1985. Port officials in Cannes said a vessel named Silco was registered there three years ago, but not under the registration number and ownership quoted by the Abu Nidal group.
RED CROSS HAS RECEIVED NO REQUESTS
In Geneva Monday, Michelle Mercier, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that neither Israel nor any other government has asked the ICRC to intervene on behalf of the hijacked passengers. The ICRC acts only on the requests of the parties involved, she explained.
The JTA approached the ICRC because Abu Nidal’s spokesman said Sunday that ICRC delegates would be given permission to visit the passengers, apparently being held hostage.
So far the hijackers have made no demands for their release and return of the yacht.
The Abu Nidal gang has a heinous record of perpetrating assassinations, kidnappings and terrorist attacks, mainly outside the Middle East. It was responsible for the attempted murder of the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Shlomo Argov, on a London street in 1982, the massacre at the Istanbul synagogue last year, the assassination of PLO moderate Issam Sartawi in Lisbon and the simultaneous machine-gun and grenade attacks on passengers at the Rome and Vienna airports two years ago.
The fact that it dare hold a news conference in Beirut was seen in Israel as an indication that the organization has become stronger. Hitherto, it has acted clandestinely.