Israel Frees 300 Lebanese Prisoners : 435 Still Held at Atlit Prison; Hostage Linkage Denied

Associated Press

Rice and rose water were showered on heads of the 300 Lebanese detainees freed by Israel today as they returned home to this ancient port city.

Streets of the south Lebanon port were crowded with clapping, cheering people and horn-honking motorists as the beaming prisoners, in white-striped blue track suits, emerged from buses to hugs and kisses.

Those freed today were among the 735 Lebanese prisoners whose release had been demanded by the Lebanese Shia Muslim hijackers who held U.S. hostages from a commandeered TWA airliner for 16 days.


Their release came three days after the Shias freed the last 39 American hostages, but Israel took pains to deny any connection.

Release Postponed

Freed prisoners interviewed said they knew nothing about the June 14 hijacking or the release of the last American hostages on Sunday. But one said Israel had agreed to free them a month ago, then postponed the decision.

One prisoner, Imad Awada, 27, said, “All this batch were taken prisoner four months ago during the Israeli ‘iron fist’ campaign. We were very badly treated. We were beaten, kept naked in the open for long hours.”

Most of those freed today belonged to the Shia Amal militia, whose leaders took over responsibility for the U.S. hostages in Beirut and brokered their release.

Israel had accused the detainees--who originally numbered 1,167--of taking part in or planning attacks on its troops before their withdrawal in June from south Lebanon. It brought them from Lebanon on April 2 when it closed the Ansar prison camp there.

Detention Condemned

The United States and other governments condemned the transfer as violating the 1949 Geneva Conventions on the treatment of war prisoners.


Israeli troops led by an armored personnel carrier today escorted the detainees back into Lebanon, where about 100 Israeli troops remain in a border strip supporting a pro-Israeli Lebanese militia, the South Lebanon Army.

International Red Cross officials at Ras Al-Bayada, the northernmost Israeli checkpoint in southern Lebanon, received the prisoners as they were freed by soldiers wearing flak jackets.

The soldiers untied plastic ropes around the prisoners’ wrists and let them out of the nine red-and-white buses into the care of the Red Cross officials.

U.S., Israel Deny Deal

The hijackers of TWA Flight 847 had demanded release of all 735 prisoners held at Atlit military prison, 30 miles south of the border. Both Israel and the United States denied making any deal to release the Lebanese in exchange for the Americans.

In Jerusalem, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin repeated today, “There is no linkage between the release of the hostages and our policy, which we continue to implement, to release these Lebanese detainees in accordance to the security developments in southern Lebanon.”

Rabin said Israel had planned to free the prisoners June 5, but the release was delayed by attacks in south Lebanon and by the hijacking.


Military sources said that of the 435 detainees now left at Atlit, 50 to 70 are members of the extremist Shia Hezbollah organization, the Iranian-influenced group believed to be involved in the hijacking and which guarded four of the American hostages in Beirut.

Of the rest, most are Sunni Muslims, Druze and Christians, and about 150 Palestinians.