Details of the spectacular rescue of 102 hijack victims from their terrorist captors at Entebbe Airport in Uganda were unfolded at a press conference here yesterday by the officer who commanded the operation, Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron.
Flanked by Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur, the youngish tough-looking soldier wearing a paratrooper’s beret, said the fighting to extricate the hostages–passengers and crew members of the Air France air bus–was easier than the decision by the Cabinet to mount the rescue mission against a target in a hostile country 2,500 miles distant and with very little time for advance planning.
Addressing the Knesset earlier in the day, Premier Yitzhak Rabin officially confirmed that three of the hostages and one Israeli army officer had lost their lives in the rescue operation. Only two of the civilians were immediately identified. They were Ida Borowitz, 56, who was going to Paris to visit her son, and Jean Jacques Maimoni, 19, en route to Paris to continue his studies. there. The third civilian succumbed to wounds at a Nairobi hospital.
The officer killed in the Entebbe Airport action as Lt, Col. Jonathan Nethanyahu, 30, who was born in the United States and brought to Israel at age two. He was the commander of the strike force that freed the hostages. Funeral services will be held tomorrow at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. Rabin expressed his grief to the families of the victims and the Knesset rose for one minute’s silence. Ten wounded persons were returned to Israel and transferred to Tel Hashomer Sheba Hospital.
ONE HOSTAGE STILL IN UGANDA
One hostage, Mrs. Dora Bloch, 75, a holder of both a British and an Israeli passport, was left behind in Uganda when the rest of the hostages were freed because she had been taken earlier to a hospital in Kampala. Mrs. Bloch, an Israeli resident, was travelling with her son. He was among those rescued. It is understood that Israel and Britain are working closely together to try to ensure her release from Uganda. She is reportedly now well enough to be moved from the hospital.
Shomron estimated that there were fewer than 20 casualties among the Ugandan troops at the airport. He confirmed reports by the returned hostages that the Ugandans were actually helping the hijackers to guard the hostages while Ugandan President Idi Amin was posing in the role of a neutral mediator. Shomron also disclosed that seven terrorists were killed. Only four terrorists actually participated in the hijack of the Air France “air bus” after it left Athens Airport June 27. Several more were apparently brought in with the consent of Ugandan authorities to reenforce the original hijackers.
Gur said the Ugandans were guarding the entrance to the hangar where the hostages were held. They had watch posts on the gallery that overlooked the hangar, they were on the roof of the hangar, and they were around the hanger, he said.
MOST DARING OPERATION EVER
Last Wednesday and Thursday, the hijackers released 148 hostages, most of them Jews of various nationalities. They held 102 persons–about 80 of them Israelis and a number of suspected Israelis plus the flight crew of the seized French airliner. The hijackers demanded the release of 53 Palestinian or pro-Palestinian terrorists–40 of them serving prison sentences in Israel and 13 imprisoned in West Germany. Switzerland, France and Kenya.
Israel agreed on Thursday to negotiate for their release and asked the French government to conduct the negotiations. The hijackers set a deadline of 8 a.m. Sunday (Uganda time) at which time they threatened to kill the hostages if their demands were not met.
Peres told the press conference that it became apparent that the negotiations were getting nowhere and that the possibility existed to rescue the hostages. The decision to carry out this action was taken in view of the grave danger to their lives, he said. He noted that the operation was the most daring one ever undertaken by the Israeli army because of the distance involved and the short time left for planning. He said that to the best of his knowledge, the Israeli rescue party did not request permission to land at Entebbe Airport.
NO DETAILS DISCLOSED
No details were disclosed as to the number of troops or planes used in the operation. It was carried out with giant American-built Hercules transports. Some foreign press reports said there was one Hercules and two Boeing 707 military cargo jets.
Peres had high praise for the behavior of the Air France flight crew. He said they treated the other hostages as their passengers throughout the ordeal. He reiterated that Israel had consulted with no other government before it undertook the operation and bore sole responsibility.
According to the accounts of Shomrom, Gur and Peres, the soldiers in the rescue party shouted to the hostages to keep their heads down as they ran to the rescue plane but some of the civilians did not hear or could not obey that order. The Israeli soldiers were ordered to fire on anyone who fired on them. They were fired on by Ugandan troops, some of whom were in the airport control tower. They fired back and some of their bullets hit and damaged 6-10 Soviet-made MIG planes of various types belonging to the Ugandan Air Force. Gur said the airport was not put out of operation by the battle.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.