The Cabinet met in special session this morning to discuss the situation of more than 80 Israelis held by the hijackers of an Air France jet at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The hijackers have demanded the release of 40 terrorists imprisoned in Israel and 13 in other countries by noon tomorrow in exchange for the safety of the 250 passengers and crew members held hostage. They have threatened to blow up the airliner and the remaining hostages if their demands are not met.
Radio reports from Kampala this morning said the hijackers had released 47 women, children and sick persons on the appeal of President Idi Amin of Uganda. There was no indication whether any Israelis were among the freed hostages. (See later story P. 3)
The Cabinet was briefed by Premier Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Yigal Allon. A communique issued after the meeting said no decisions were made and that consultations over the affair would continue. Allon, speaking in the Knesset later today, praised the firm stand of France “and the other countries involved” not to submit to the hijacker’s demands. He said that according to the latest information from Uganda, none of the hostages has been harmed. He said that so far, the political stand by the other governments had given Israel “a certain degree of encouragement.”
BASIS FOR ISRAEL’S POSITION
There was no other official reaction here to the demand that Israel release 40 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian terrorists. The government acknowledged that the demand has been conveyed to it from Paris. Officials said the Israeli and French governments remained “in close and constant contact” and that contacts have been established with other governments to which the hijackers have submitted their demands. In addition to France these are West Germany. Switzerland and Kenya.
Contacts were also made with countries whose nationals are among the hostages but there have been no direct contacts so far with the government of Uganda which has no diplomatic relations with Israel. Officials said that as far as they know there are no Israelis living in Uganda in any official or private capacity.
Observers here believe that Israel’s position with respect to the hijackers’ demands will be determined in the next 24 hours by the positions taken by the French and other governments involved. Israel will not be the first to submit to the demands and is expected to adhere to its long standing policy of no deals with terrorists. But sources here acknowledge that if other governments surrender, Israel’s position would be extremely delicate since the safety of other nationals is also at stake.
The Transport Ministry announced meanwhile that it would open an information office for the families of the Israeli hostages in Tel Aviv this afternoon. The office will be open from morning until midnight daily to furnish relatives with what ever information is available and to keep them apprised of the situation to ease their worries.
STRESS FRANCE’S RESPONSIBILITY
Israeli leaders continued to stress the view that France is “the factor responsible for the safety and welfare of all the passengers” on the Air France jet. Rabin, addressing the National Hotel Association convention yesterday, said the government regarded those governments whose planes carry passengers to and from Israel to be fully responsible for the passengers’ safety without regard to their religion, nationality or citizenship. On the other hand, Rabin said Israel considered itself responsible for any Israeli who is persecuted, threatened or detained because he is an Israeli.
Addressing the same convention, Minister of Tourism Moshe Kol remarked that there seemed to be a “division of labor” in terrorist organizations. “One organization commits murder and the other appears to be reserved. One hijacks planes and the other condemns the hijacking. But we regard all terror organizations as one gang,” Kol said.
The hostages freed today were handed over by President Amin to Somalia Ambassador Hashi Abdullah Farah, who is acting as a mediator for the hijackers, according to reports from Entebbe Airport. Abdullah Farah then handed them over to French Ambassador Pierre Renard and the freed hostages left Uganda on an Air France relief plane bound for Paris. The plane had come to Entebbe from Nairobi to pick up the freed passengers.
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