TEL AVIV (Nov. 22)
Five Israelis, employees of the Tahal Water Engineering Co., were held captive for several hours Tuesday by Salvadoran rebels who occupied part of the Sheraton Hotel in San Salvador.
They were released unharmed when the guerrillas realized the Israelis were not foreign military advisers, according to Hen Harpaz, Tahal’s director for overseas planning, who spoke to the workers by telephone Wednesday.
He said they told him they were well treated by their youthful captors. They will return to their jobs in the Salvadoran capital after a week’s vacation, Harpaz said.
At first, the Israelis were mistaken for soldiers, like the U.S. Green Berets from Fort Bragg, N.C., who were found at the luxury hotel armed but in civilian clothes.
The Israelis were released speedily Tuesday, after it was found they were water engineers. According to reports Wednesday from San Salvador, the rebels gave up their siege of the hotel, and the Green Berets left unharmed.
Harpaz said Tahal, which designs and constructs water pipes and sewage systems, has a $200 million contract in San Salvador.
The work started five months ago, and the company intends to remain in the Salvadoran capital until it is finished, he said.
Tahal has been active in the Central American country since 1970, initially on agricultural projects. The civil war began in El Salvador more than 10 years ago.
In 1979, Tahal began laying pipelines in and around the capital, which was less affected by guerrilla activity than rural areas.