JERUSALEM (May. 9)
The Shi’ite fundamentalist Hezbollah, or Party of God, seems determined to saddle Israel with responsibility for the failure of radical groups in Lebanon to release any more Western hostages.
A Hezbollah leader in Lebanon, Hussein Mussawi, said Tuesday night that his movement does not give Israeli captives the same status as Americans and other Westerners held prisoner.
Therefore, it is “impossible” for the Israelis to be released with the others, Mussawi said in a series of media interviews.
That was his response to Israel’s offer to free hundreds of Shi’ite and Palestinian prisoners it holds in exchange for 15 Western hostages and seven Israeli prisoners of war in Lebanon.
The offer was made in a statement issued Tuesday on behalf of acting Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. It was supported later by former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Dan Shomron and Binyamin Netanyahu, the deputy foreign minister.
The Israeli offer includes one of Hezbollah’s spiritual leaders, Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, seized by Israeli commandos in Lebanon last July.
The Israeli offer was clearly aimed at appeasing opinion in the United States, where leading members of Congress, including supporters of Israel, have expressed impatience with the continued confinement of hundreds of Lebanese Shi’ites and Palestinians by the IDF or the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
The Israelis insist those prisoners are suspected of terrorist offenses.
But a sharp rebuke on the subject Sunday from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), one of Israel’s staunchest friends in Congress, elicited the prime minister’s response that Israel is ready “to play its role in any move that brings about the release of all the hostages, including the Israeli prisoners missing in action.”
HOSTAGE FREEZE TILL 1991?
Rabin, Shomron and Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony commemorating Israel’s rescue of hijacked Air France passengers held hostage at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda, in July 1976.
Rabin, who was prime minister at that time, said he has always favored military action in hostage situations when possible. When it is not possible, Israel should be ready to negotiate.
Rabin referred to Israel’s release of 1,150 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in 1985, when he was defense minister. They were exchanged for three IDF soldiers held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
Hezbollah, which is supposed to be strongly influenced by the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran, seems to be trying to drive a wedge between Israel and its Western friends, particularly the United States.
Mussawi warned Tuesday night that the entire hostage situation might be frozen until 1991 because the United States refuses to negotiate. He apparently meant the application of pressure on Israel.