TEL AVIV (Oct. 1)
Gen. Antoine Lehad, commander of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army, announced Monday the release of several score Moslem prisoners from El-Khiam detention camp in the southern Lebanon security zone “as a goodwill gesture on the occasion of the birth date of the prophet Mohammed.”
Lehad, a Lebanese Christian, said he ordered the gesture on his own initiative “but with the consent and welcome” of the Israel Defense Force, which relies on the SLA to police the security zone.
Lehad said the prisoners set free were mostly Shi’ites from the security zone, but also some Sunni Moslems and Druse.
They include detainees arrested for possession of explosives believed intended for terrorist acts against the SLA and IDF.
Lehad said in an SLA radio broadcast that Israel joined him in the hope that release of the prisoners “on humanitarian grounds” would result in a lessening of the internecine fighting and kidnappings that are a frequent occurrence in southern Lebanon.
There were reports several months ago that Lehad was about to release El-Khiam detainees. That led to speculation that his step was part of a multinational deal that would include freeing foreign hostages held in Lebanon and Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, the Shi’ite religious leader kidnapped by Israeli commandos in the summer of 1989. But no prisoner exchange materialized.