A Japanese Red Army terrorist jailed for the 1972 Lod Airport massacre near Tel Aviv will be among 1,150 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel in exchange for three Israeli soldiers, informed sources reported Sunday.
The International Red Cross said that the exchange will start today in Geneva, Switzerland, in a sealed-off section of the airport and that some of the prisoners held by Israel will be transferred to Libya. The remaining prisoners will be released in Israel.
In return, Israel will receive what are believed to be the last three Israeli soldiers in Arab hands. They reportedly are being held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The Popular Front, headed by Ahmed Jibril, is a radical military group supported by Libya and Syria. It has attacked Israeli villages in the Galilee, including a rocket attack in 1970 that killed a number of schoolchildren.
Terror Raid Killed 26
Palestinian sources identified the imprisoned Japanese terrorist as Kozo Okamoto, who was given a life sentence by an Israeli court on July 17, 1972. Okamoto, now 37, was one of three Japanese in a terrorist hit squad that opened fire in the crowded Lod Airport, killing 26 people and wounding 72.
Okamoto's two companions were killed in a shootout with Israeli security man.
The sources, speaking on condition they not be identified, said another prisoner to be included in the exchange is Ziad abu Ein, who was extradited from the United States to Israel in 1983 and is serving a life sentence for killing two people in Tiberias with a bomb.
Diplomatic sources in Damascus said that former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky--who played a key role in negotiating a mass exchange of prisoners in 1983--was involved in the new negotiations to include Okamoto and other terrorists in the exchange.
Visits to Mideast
They noted that Kreisky visited Damascus and Jerusalem earlier this year and had met then with Jibril.
Jean-Jacques Kurz, a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva, waited until today to give the first official confirmation of the prisoner exchange, which had been rumored for several weeks. However, he did not confirm that the two terrorists would be among those freed.
Kurz said in Geneva that the three Israelis would be exchanged for about 380 Palestinians at Geneva's Cointrin airport today.
"There will be a simultaneous exchange" in the Middle East of the other prisoners, he told about 20 reporters waiting at the airport.
The Damascus sources said late Sunday that three planes--two Libyan and one Bulgarian--were en route to Geneva, carrying the three Israeli soldiers.
The swap, referred to by some Palestinians as "the Galilee Operation," is expected to take about six hours with confirmations needed from exchange sites in the Golan Heights and Jerusalem on the completed transfer of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners.
From Geneva the Palestinian prisoners will be flown to Tripoli where they are expected to be greeted by Libya's strongman, Col. Moammar Kadafi.
The Israeli prisoners, all in their early 20s, will be flown to Israel after their Geneva release. The three men are tank commander Hezi Shai and soldiers Yosef Groff and Nissim Shalem.
Shai was captured a few days after Israel's June 6, 1982, invasion of Lebanon and was missing for nearly a year until the Red Cross confirmed he was a prisoner of war.
Groff and Shalem were among eight Israelis who were captured by Palestine Liberation Organization forces on Sept. 4, 1982. The other six Israelis with them were released on Nov. 24, 1983, when Israel traded 4,500 Palestinians and Lebanese prisoners for the six Israelis.
The most recent lopsided prisoner exchange was completed on June 28, 1984, when Israel sent 311 Syrian soldiers and Arab prisoners to Syria and, in return, won the release of three Israeli soldiers and three low-ranking Israeli diplomats.
Geneva was the site of the first prisoner swap between the two sides when an Israeli army reservist was exchanged by the Popular Front for 76 Palestinians on March 14, 1979. Ten other Palestinians were freed in Israel in the trade that followed months of negotiations through the Red Cross.