TEL AVIV (Mar. 14)
Israel engaged in its first prisoner exchange with an Arab terrorist organization today when, through the instrumentality of the International Red Cross in Geneva, it released 76 Arab prisoners in return for a single Israeli-soldier captured in south Lebanon last April 4 by Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command.
The exchange, which took place at a remote corner of Geneva airport, culminated almost a year of secret negotiations directed by Defense Minister Ezer Weizman with the approval of Premier Menachem Begin but without the knowledge of the rest of the Cabinet. The secrecy and the lopsided ratio of 76 Arabs for one Israeli has caused consternation in some Israeli circles.
The freed soldier, Avraham Amram, is one of six Israeli soldiers and civilians who strayed across enemy lines while on an unauthorized sightseeing tour in south Lebanon II months ago and were waylaid by Jibril’s terrorists. Four of his companions were killed and two of them, one wounded, managed to return to Israeli territory.
A special chartered plane left Israel this morning for Geneva with 66 of the Arab prisoner. Ten were released at an undisclosed spot in the Middle East. A few minutes after the Israeli plane landed, a Bulgarian airliner carrying Amram arrived from Beirut.
The exchange took place under the supervision of the Red Cross surrounded by a cordon of Swiss police. Half the Palestinian prisoners left their plane first and had their identities checked by Red Cross officials. Then Amram left his plane and was seated in a Red Cross car parked between the two aircraft. He was allowed to board the Israeli plane only after the last 33 Palestinians had been checked and boarded the Bulgarian plane. They were flown to Libya and Amram to Israel for debriefing and reunion with his wife, children and mother.
AMRAM DESCRIBES HIS ORDEAL
Amram arrived in Israel late this afternoon for an emotional reunion with his wife and two children after nearly a year in captivity. He told reporters that he was tortured immediately after his capture by the terrorists and that no attempt was made to treat a hand injury he sustained. Later, however, his treatment improved, he said, and some of the guards even gave him gifts. But he was transferred from one place of imprisonment to the another and each time he was beaten in the process. He said he was confined to a tiny cell.
Nevertheless, Amram appeared to be in good physical condition but will undergo it a rough medical examinations. Asked how he happened to stray into a terrorist enclave, he blamed it on his guide, The guide, though wounded, found his way back to the Israeli lines.
NO WELL-KNOWN TERRORISTS RELEASED
Israeli authorities said today that two-thirds of the released Palestinians were common criminals and only one-third were serving sentences for terrorist acts. They stressed that the latter included no well-Known terrorists such as Kozo Okamoto. Nevertheless, many Israelis felt the price was too high to pay for one soldier who fell into terrorist hands because he violated military orders. They also feared that the exchange might set a precedent for breaking Israel’s firm policy of no deals with terrorist organizations.
Israeli authorities maintained that the exchange did not involve questions of policy but was an executive action undertaken on humanitarian grounds. They said the condition of Amram’s family had warranted this approach.
The Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command is a splinter group that broke away from George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1968 for ideological reasons. It is led by Ahmad Jibril, a former Syrian army officer, is pro-Syrian and has an estimated strength of 500 members. It is represented on the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and while small, is considered an effective terrorist organization. The exchange represents a major coup for the group which succeeded in obtaining The release of a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, something the PLO and other terrorist organizations have failed to do.