Shamir Wants Word of Missing Israelis Before Releasing Any Arab Prisoners

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said here Monday that Israel will release no additional Arab prisoners until it has more definite word about Israeli service personnel long missing in Lebanon.

The Israeli leader, on the first leg of a 10-day visit to the United States, used the occasion of a news conference to congratulate the families of two of the longest-held hostages, Terry Waite and Thomas Sutherland, just freed in Lebanon.

Sutherland, 60, of Fort Collins, Colo., and Waite, 52, who is British, were both captives of the Islamic Holy War. Waite was seized in February 1987 and Sutherland in June 1985.

“I am very glad for the release of the hostages and we share the happiness of their families. We welcome after so many years their release,” Shamir said.

Reports from unnamed diplomats Monday said that Israel would follow the latest hostage release with more prisoner releases of its own.

So far, Israel has freed 66 Palestinians and Lebanese and returned the bodies of nine. In exchange, Israel has received information on three of its own soldiers captured in Lebanon.

It is awaiting word about four others, only one of whom, air force navigator Ron Arad, may still be alive.

But Shamir made clear that until definite information is received, Israel will release no more prisoners.

The Israeli prime minister held his news conference before addressing the World Affairs Council. His remarks were seen by some as a preview of what he will tell President Bush when they meet at the White House on Friday.

Shamir argued that the bilateral peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors will drag out if the meetings are held outside the Middle East, as the Arabs so far have insisted.

“We cannot afford to keep large numbers (of Israeli negotiators) in a distant place for months,” and so stretch out the pace of the negotiations, he said.

He said he would stress that point to Bush on Friday.

In his address to the council, Shamir urged the free world to press for democratization in Arab countries as one way to encourage the peace process.

Shamir drew resounding cheers from 1,800 people at a community rally organized by the Jewish Federation Council on Sunday evening.

The present time is “one of the greatest periods in 2,000 years of Jewish history,” Shamir proclaimed to thunderous applause.

Shamir also put in a plug for American aliyah with a none-too-subtle warning that Jews may not always be safe in the Diaspora.

While Israel watches over every Jewish community and will rescue it if need be, Shamir said, he exhorted the crowd not to “wait until it is too late.”

He also took a swipe at the Bush administration’s delay in approving $10 billion in loan guarantees to help Israel absorb immigrants.

“We shall not ask a single Jew in the Soviet Union, Ethiopia or elsewhere to wait 120 days or 90 days or 200 days until such technicalities can be arranged,” he said.

Shamir was scheduled to meet privately Monday afternoon with former Secretary of State George Shultz and California Governor Pete Wilson.

Monday evening he will address a forum of Israeli and American industrialists participating in a half-day seminar on “Doing Business in Israel.”

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