JERUSALEM (May. 5)
The Foreign Ministry has denied the report that appeared in the Washington Post last week that Egypt had proposed freeing 200 imprisoned Jews in exchange for an Egyptian fighter pilot who had been shot down over Israeli territory last winter. Ministry officials said the report by syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak was “completely groundless.” They said the pilot had been downed in a military action over Israel, that his treatment was governed by the Geneva Convention and that the International Red Cross was handling the question of his release.
Evans and Novak reported in a dispatch from Cairo that the pilot was the son of a high-ranking Egyptian intelligence officer and that Egypt wanted him back badly. However, they said, Israel hoped to extract information from him and had rejected the exchange deal. They said the Israeli Embassy in Washington had been approached on the matter by U.S. officials but had rebuffed them. The U.S. State Department denied that American officials had interceded in any way.
The Evans and Novak dispatch asserted that the 200 Jews were the last held in Egyptian jails and that Cairo had intended to release them until the pilot was shot down, when it proposed an exchange. The columnists said the Jews had been moved from a prison to a barracks in the Nile Delta where they remain.
The columnists alleged that Israel rejected an exchange deal because Egypt’s claim to have cleared the way for the exit of all Jews who wished to leave would weaken the force of Israeli charges that Jews were mistreated in Arab countries and were forbidden to leave. The Foreign Ministry said today that the position of Jews in Arab countries remained tragic and that Israel would continue to do everything in its power to keep their plight before world public opinion. The ministry denied that there was any connection with the case of the Egyptian pilot.