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Technical Problems Delay Take-Off of Hijacked Iranian Plane

September 20, 1995

OVDA AIRFORCE BASE, Israel (AP) _ Israel allowed a hijacked Iranian plane to return Wednesday to Tehran, despite demands that it be used as a bargaining chip to free an Israeli airman believed held by Iran.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Israel made the right decision, ``not to support any piracy in the air.″ Israel’s Cabinet said the plane was sent back ``despite the hostility of the Iranian regime toward Israel.″

The Kish Air Boeing 747 left the Ovda air base in southern Israel, escorted by two Israeli F-16 jets. It had 174 passengers and crew aboard, including five passengers who reportedly had asked for asylum.

Sources in Tehran told The Associated Press that the jet touched down at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport shortly after midnight. Passengers and crew were taken to a terminal used only for special flights, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

Friends and relatives who had waited hours for the plane to land were sent home by officials at the airport. They were told the passengers would be dropped off at their homes after a few hours, the sources said.

The plane was hijacked Tuesday by a flight attendant en route from Tehran to the Persian Gulf resort island of Kish. The hijacker surrendered less than an hour after it landed at Ovda, 18 miles north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

The hijacker, identified as Jabari Rizah, 29, remained in police custody and was to have a hearing before a judge in Eilat on Thursday, said Eilat police spokesman Danny Peretz.

Israel rejected Iran’s demand that the hijacker be extradited. Israel radio said he might eventually be handed over to the Red Cross.

Israel released the plane Wednesday despite pressure from the family of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad and right-wing politicians to use it as a bargaining chip. Israel holds Iran responsible for the fate of the navigator, who was shot down on a 1986 bombing mission over Lebanon.

Although Israeli officials immediately ruled out such a move, there were indications that Israel had in fact sought a way to capitalize on Tuesday’s hijacking.

The Haaretz daily said security agents interrogated the passengers to discover if any were connected to the Iranian regime.

``Ron Arad is the central motive for Israel in dealing with this incident,″ army spokesman Brig. Gen. Amos Gilad said Wednesday.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry reiterated Wednesday that it had no knowledge of Arad’s whereabouts.

Arad’s mother Batya flew to Ovda and tearfully asked the Iranians to ``be the good angels who will tell and ask your government to help us bring Ron home safely.″

After she spoke, Mrs. Arad stuck a ``Free Ron Arad″ sticker on the shirt of an Iranian boy standing next to her, and put stickers on the Boeing 707 waiting on the tarmac.

The passengers, including women in long black robes and head scarves, listened intently but said there was little they could do.

Later, as they walked through rows of Israeli soldiers to board the plane, the passengers appeared relieved and in high spirits.

``I am so touched by the whole thing here,″ said Tehran English teacher Mehdi Darayali. ``I really appreciate what you are doing for your man. I hope that you get him back as soon as possible.

``I am so excited about going back and I want to thank the Israelis.″

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