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Pows Are a Prime Consideration

October 25, 1973
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Foreign Minister Abba Eban said this evening at a press conference here that Israel places prime importance on the question of the exchange of prisoners of war within the cease-fire arrangement. Eban stressed that while Israel has handed over to the Red Cross representative lists of all prisoners in her camps and hospitals and Red Cross people were allowed to visit the POWs, Israel has received no notification from the Syrians as to how many were captured at a military position in the presence of Red Cross people or five Israeli liaison officers who were taken prisoners in the presence of UN officials.

Israel knows of six more who are in hospitals. Israel has taken 1300 POWs–988 of whom are Egyptians, 295 Syrians, 12 Iraqis and 5 Moroccans. Eban said that the two powers that sponsored the cease-fire resolution at the UN have adopted the principle of the exchange of POWs at the earliest date. He explained that statements made by Egyptian officials as to the treatment of POWs or of the date of their exchange has created anxiety in Israel. (One Egyptian official was reported to have said that the exchange can be discussed only after Israel evacuates all territories.)

The Israeli Foreign Minister said that Israel is not convinced–based on previous experience–that Egypt will keep the cease-fire or intends to keep it. However, within a short time her intentions will be made clear, Eban said. If, however, and he reiterated the “if,” the cease-fire will be kept, and if the negotiations referred to in the UN Security Council’s resolution will lead to a peace settlement, this month of grief, anguish and terror will also be the month of the turning point in the destiny of this region.

Eban reiterated Israel’s desire for peace and said that everything is negotiable. However, he defended emphatically Israel’s demand for secure and defensible borders. What would have happened if the massive Egyptian force started its invasion not from the canal, which is a few hundred kilometers from Tel Aviv, but from the previous international boundary which is near the settlements and not too far from Tel Aviv?, Eban asked. Likewise, if the Syrians would have stormed down the Golan Heights into the settlements area there would have been catastrophic consequences, he said. Eban supported Israel’s decision to accept the cease-fire proposal and expressed satisfaction with the political attitude of the Nixon Administration. But he said he was disappointed that some friendly countries “did not stand fast in the time of need.” Eban was apparently referring to Britain and to several African countries that broke relations with Israel after the outbreak of war.

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