Italians Seek Diplomatic End To Hijack
ROME (AP) _ The defense minister said Italy would not bend to terrorist blackmail, but was following a ″diplomatic, humanitarian course″ to end the hijacking of a luxury liner in the Mediterranean with more than 400 people aboard.
Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini said late Tuesday that Italy had not established contact with the hijackers, who were demanding the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and that there would be no negotiations for prisoners ″that are not in our hands and over whom we have no power.″
Spadolini, Premier Bettino Crazi and Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti met in a late-night session Tuesday, but gave no indication of what action might be taken.
″Ours is a diplomatic, humanitarian course, careful not to be overcome with exasperation at the terrorist attack,″ Spadolini said.
Spadolini ordered Italy’s armed forces on alert Monday after Palestinians hijacked the Achille Lauro off the Egyptian coast, but said any military move was an ″extreme″ action to be avoided at all costs.
The hijackers, who claimed to be members of a dissident PLO faction, were said to have a large supply of explosives and vowed soon after seizing the vessel they would blow it up if military air or naval forces tried to interfere. Flotta Lauro, the shipping line, said 413 people were aboard, including 331 crew members.
″We are counting that in the end reason will prevail,″ Spadolini told a joint session of the defense and foreign Senate committees. But he added: ″We affirm that we will not cede to any terrorist blackmail.″
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, speaking on condition he not be identified, told The Associated Press by telephone early today, that were were no new ″solid developments″ in the situation.
However, he said the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunisia had told Italian authorities that the boat was being held by five to seven hijackers who used false South American passports to board the vessel in the northern port of Genoa where the ship began its Mediterranean cruise last Thursday.
The official said there was no independent confirmation of the claim or any information on whether the hijackers boarded at any stop or took over the liner at sea.
An Italian news agency said Genoa police were questioning a Palestinian identified as Ast Kalaf Mohamad Zainab, 21, for possible connections to the hijacking.
The ANSA news agency quoted police sources as saying the Palestinian was carrying passports from Iraq and Morocco when he was arrested Sept. 28 while getting off a ship from Tunis. No other details were available.
Police said that someone who had gotten on the ship in Genoa had used an Argentine passport reported stolen three months ago. The man to whom the passport belongs is presently in Rome, police said.
Andreotti, citing messages from the ship, said earlier the terrorists ″seem″ to be demanding the release of Palestinians in various countries, including Italy, in addition to 50 being held in Israel.
Italian justice sources say 13 Palestinian terrorists or suspected terrorists are held in Italy.
Andreotti said one of the first people he turned to was PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who denied PLO involvement in the hijack and promised assistance in ending it.
Craxi exchanged information on the hijack with U.S. Ambassador to Italy Maxwell Rabb, while Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti conferred with Syria’s ambassador, Bourhan Kayal, late Thursday.
Foreign Ministry officials said the Syrian ambassador assured his government’s ″good offices″ in pursuing a peaceful solution to the hijacking. Andreotti also held a private telephone conversation with Syrian President Hafez Assad, who was visiting Czechoslovakia.
Craxi and Andreotti also conferred with the Israeli ambassador Tuesday.
Officials at the Achille Lauro shipping company said that 341 of the liner’s passengers who got off the vessel in Alexandria prior to the hijacking, would be flown to Rome today.