Hijacked Iranian Plane Leaves Israel for Home
OVDA AIR FORCE BASE, Israel (AP) _ A hijacked Iranian plane took off from Israel today and headed back to Tehran with 174 passengers and crew, including five passengers who reportedly asked for asylum.
The plane left the Ovda air base in southern Israel escorted by two Israeli F-16 jets.
The Kish Air Boeing 707 was hijacked by a flight attendant at gunpoint Tuesday during a flight 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.
Israel decided to release the plane despite pressure from the family of captured Israeli airman Ron Arad to use the plane as a bargaining chip. Israel holds Iran responsible for Arad’s fate.
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 plane’s takeoff was delayed when a problem was found with the landing gear door as passengers were boarding earlier today. Israel army radio said five passengers had sought political asylum in Israel.
An increasingly irate Iran had demanded the immediate return of the plane, passengers and crew. Iran warned Israel through a third party that it would consider it an act of war if its demands were ignored, according to an Israeli security official.
Still, Israel rejected Iran’s demand that the hijacker be extradited. Israel radio said he might be handed over to the Red Cross.
Police today identified the hijacker as Jabari Rizah, 29, one of the flight attendants. Rizah is to have a hearing before a judge in Eilat on Thursday, said Eilat police spokesman Danny Peretz.
Earlier today, some Israeli officials suggested Israel would hold the plane until it was satisfied everything possible had been learned about Arad.
Arad’s family had demanded that the plane be held in an effort to get the airman released. Arad was shot down during an October 1986 bombing mission over Lebanon, and Israel has held Iran responsible for his fate.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry reiterated today that it had no knowledge of Arad’s whereabouts.
Arad’s mother, Batya, flew today to Ovda air force base in the southern Negev desert to speak to the hijacked passengers.
``You will be the good angels who will tell and ask your government to help us bring Ron home safely,″ a tearful Mrs. Arad said, speaking through a megaphone.
The passengers, including women in long black robes and head scarves, listened intently but said there was little they could do.
``I feel sad for the family, but I believe whatever my government says about this story,″ said Mehdi Darayali, an English teacher from Tehran.
After she spoke, Mrs. Arad stuck a ``Free Ron Arad″ sticker on the shirt of an Iranian boy standing next to her. Mrs. Arad also put stickers on the Kish Air Boeing 707 waiting on the tarmac.
Since the hijacking began Tuesday morning, Iranian officials have issued angry statements attacking Israel and accusing it of collusion with the hijackers.
``Hijacking of an Iranian airliner by an illegitimate regime which has terrorism, abduction and inhuman measures at the top of its activities is not something new,″ said Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri.
His remarks were carried by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp.