Shamir Says No Prisoner-Hostage Swap Without Release of Israelis
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said today that Israel would not release any Arab prisoners in return for Western hostages unless Israeli soldiers held in Lebanon were also freed.
Speaking for the first time about a possible prisoner-hostage swap, Shamir said no progress had been made in efforts to secure the release of three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon in 1986.
Asked about U.S. hints that Israel might free its Shiite prisoners to facilitate the release of Western hostages, Shamir said: ″I don’t think that anybody will ask Israel to participate in such an endeavor without having a possibility to release our own prisoners and missing soldiers.″
The three missing Israeli soldiers are believed held by Hezbollah, or the Party of God, a pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem group.
Hezbollah is also believed to have links to the Shiite extremists holding most of the 16 remaining Western hostages, including six Americans.
When asked whether any progress had been made concerning the release of the Israeli soldiers, Shamir said: ″Unfortunately, not yet.″
He spoke to reporters during a tour of a high-tech factory in Jerusalem.
Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, said no contacts were under way concerning a three-way swap involving Israel, the United States and the captors in Lebanon.
Shomron said in an interview broadcast today on Israel radio that there have been no practical proposals for a prisoner swap.
He also said any deal that might materialize would have to include the release of the the three Israeli soldiers held in Lebanon.
″When there is a readiness on the other side to return (Israeli) prisoners, we are prepared for an exchange. This (policy) has not changed,″ Shomron said. ″Today, there is nothing concrete, where someone is talking to us about exchanges.″
Shomron was interviewed Tuesday night at a reunion of hostages and soldiers from the 1976 Entebbe rescue mission. He noted that Israel had the option of rescuing hostages with a military mission. At the Entebbe Airport in Uganda, more than 100 passengers aboard an Air France plane hijacked by Palestinians were saved by a daring Israeli commando operation.
″In my opinion, the Israel Defense Forces can do it again even today. The IDF has units today that can do it, maybe even better, because they have better tools.″
President Bush has indirectly appealed to Israel to free Shiites as a goodwill gesture to encourage further releases of Western hostages, including six Americans.
Last month, thanks in part to Iran and Syria, Shiite militant kidnappers in Lebanon released Americans Frank Herbert Reed and Robert Polhill.
Iranian officials have said the release of any more American hostages likely hinges on Israel’s willingness to free Moslem prisoners, including Sheik Obeid, a Shiite cleric taken from his home in southern Lebanon in 1989.
About 30 Lebanese prisoners, including Shiite clergyman Sheik Abul Karim Obeid, are held in Israel. The South Lebanon Army, the Lebanese militia trained and supplied by Israel, has more than 300 mostly Shiite prisoners in a south Lebanon jail.
In addition to the Shiites, Israel holds 9,986 Palestinians who were detained during the Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, also interviewed at the reunion Tuesday night, said Israel was prepared to use all its ″bargaining chips″ to win the release of its captives.
He said Israel’s abduction of Obeid from south Lebanon in July was necessary to provide Israel with a bargaining chip for a hostage swap.
″My policy has been that when you have a hostage situation, soldiers or civilians, if there’s a military option, you use it. If not, then enter an exchange deal. For that you have to have the cards,″ Rabin said.