The Palestine Liberation Organization suggested today that Leon Klinghoffer, an American passenger aboard the hijacked Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, was not murdered by the Palestinian terrorists who seized the vessel Monday but died of a heart attack.
Farouk Kaddoumi, representative of the PLO, told a meeting of the Security Council on the Middle East which opened today that there was no evidence that Klinghoffer was murdered. He said there have been reports that he suffered from heart disease and was in poor health. “If there was evidence that he was killed, then where was that evidence?” Kaddoumi asked.
The Security Council was convened at the request of India, on behalf of the non-aligned countries, to discuss “the Middle East problem, including the question of Palestine.” But it was evident from the start of the deliberations that this meeting of the Security Council will concentrate on the ship hijacking.
In his speech, Kaddoumi blamed Israel and the U.S. for the absence of peace in the Middle East. His suggestion that the American hijack hostage was not killed by the terrorists raised eyebrows here. Diplomats privately expressed disbelief in the PLO’s claim and amazement at its audacity.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Binyamin Netanyahu, had no chance to respond to Kaddoumi immediately but is likely to do so when he speaks during a later session today of the Security Council.
STATEMENT BY U.S. ENVOY
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Vernon Walters, said that while his country is relieved by the news that the hijacked passengers have been released, that relief was tinged with sadness and anger over the brutal murder by the terrorists of an American passenger, Klinghoffer.
Walters said the U.S. will continue in the search for a lasting peace in the Middle East. “Let me be unequivocal in saying that the peace which we all desire will not be achieved by the terrorists or through their actions, but at the negotiating table,” he said.
The American envoy, however, did not mention the PLO in his speech or the fact that the hijackers of the Achille Lauro were released with impunity.
In another development, the General Assembly was expected to vote tomorrow on a proposal sponsored by India, Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria, Senegal and Yemen to invite PLO chief Yasir Arafat to address the UN’s 40th anniversary commemorative session. The session opens October 14 and will continue through October 24. Until now, the UN has invited only heads of government and state to attend.
The proposal to invite Arafat injected the first controversy over the 40th anniversary ceremonies at the UN. So far, all arrangements and decisions with respect to that event had been made by unanimous consent. The U.S. and other Western countries lobbied intensively today to prevent the proposed invitation to Arafat from coming to a vote tomorrow — but so far, according to diplomatic sources — without success.
Meanwhile, Mayor Edward Koch of New York announced today that he decided to cancel his official trip to India in mid-November to protest India’s efforts to obtain an invitation for Arafat. Koch made his announcement during a protest rally outside the PLO office in Manhattan against the ship hijack.
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