Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, head of the Greek Catholic Church in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, was released from Ramleh prison this evening after serving three years of a 12-year sentence for arms smuggling and collaboration with terrorist groups. Capucci, 55, was ordered to leave the country immediately as a condition of his release. He flew to Rome tonight.
His release followed an exchange of letters over the weekend between Pope Paul VI and President Ephraim Katzir. The Pope promised that the Archbishop would “not cause harm to the State of Israel” and said his release would be regarded by the Vatican as a friendly act “which will be met with sincere appreciation.”
In the letter, which was conveyed to Katzir last Thursday by the Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem, Msgr. William Acquin Carew, the Pope expressed deep concern over the state of Capucci’s health and asked for clemency. Katzir replied to the Pope on Friday, informing him of his decision to pardon Capucci. He wrote that he had taken in consideration “the significance of your request and its importance” and “your expression that the release will not cause harm to the State of Israel.”
The exchange of letters represented the culmination of prolonged negotiations between Israel and the Vatican. On the basis of those negotiations the Cabinet decided at its meeting last Sunday to recommend that Capucci be released.
CULMINATION OF PROLONGED NEGOTIATIONS
The prelate was arrested on August 8, 1974 while driving from Jerusalem to Nazareth via the West Bank. A search of his Mercedes Benz car yielded four rifles, two pistols, hand grenades and about 100 kilograms of explosives. Evidence submitted at his trial revealed that the arms were intended for terrorist and sabotage groups and that Capucci had been smuggling weapons regularly from Beirut in the service of the El Fatah terrorist organization.
His release from prison brought to an end one of the most delicate security cases in Israel’s history Ever since Capucci’s detention the government had been under strong political pressure from abroad to release him. Terrorists, too, demanded his release.
Capucci’s name appeared on a list of security prisoners that the 1976 Air France hijackers wanted exchanged for their hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The Archbishop himself was a troublesome prisoner. He went on hunger strikes several times while in jail which resulted in the deterioration of his health. He also complained constantly that his friends were not doing enough to secure his freedom.
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.