Sharon To Ask for Israeli Prisoner Release

We Take Care of Our own,' an Aide Said

Benny Avni The New York Sun July 29, 2003

(See J4JP note below.)

UNITED NATIONS Israelis called for their own prisoner releases yesterday one day after agreeing to free a roster of Palestinian Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails. At a luncheon today, Prime Minister Sharon is expected to deliver a petition, signed by 112 legislators of the 120 member Knesset, to President Bush calling for the release of the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

"We take care of our own," a senior official traveling with Mr. Sharon said "especially this government. It is only fair we get something in return for the prisoner release."

The case of Mr. Pollard, who has spent 17 years in an American jail, might however prove too controversial. Several top intelligence officials have strongly opposed his release, in writing and secret memos. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, once even reportedly threatened to resign to prevent fulfilling a promise made by President Clinton to Prime Minister Netanyahu to release Mr. Pollard.

The Israeli official noted yesterday that in addition to Mr. Pollard, there are several Israelis, held in Egypt and Lebanon, who might become candidates for reciprocal "good will measures" in response to the Israeli decision on Sunday to release a roster of Palestinian Arab prisoners. He stressed that the release has been a difficult political issue for Mr. Sharon even within his own Cabinet, and that any release of Israelis elsewhere would help to ease those political pressures.

Mr. Sharon's government announced on Sunday that it would release 540 Palestinian Arab prisoners within the week, including 210 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members. Critics in Israel have raised the concern that the decision might lead to further Arab attempts to kidnap Israelis for use as bargaining chips.

"We welcome steps like this," the White House communications director, Scott McClellan, said yesterday, referring to the Israeli announcement of prisoner release and of removing several checkpoints in the West Bank. These moves, he said, "improve the relations between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority and help facilitate progress toward peace.

He also showed sensitivity to the criteria Israel has set for the prisoner release. "These are issues that need to be addressed on a case by case basis," he said, adding, "No one would want anyone released that had blood on their hands."

The Israeli official said that in addition to keeping killers jailed, Israel would not release Palestinian Arabs who have planned terror acts, and those involved in the manufacturing of makeshift rockets that have been used to launch mortars from Gaza to neighboring Israeli towns.

According to several unconfirmed reports in Israel and in some Arab media, Egypt recently offered to release Azam Azam, an Israeli citizen held on suspicion of espionage, if Israel were to release terror suspects. Breaking a practice of not commenting on intelligence matters, several Israeli leaders vehemently denied Mr. Azam, who is held in a Cairo jail without charges, ever spied for Israel.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah renewed its past demands for a prisoner swap. The terror organization had kidnapped an Israeli citizen, Elchanan Tennenbaum, and indicated it holds the bodies of several missing Israeli soldiers now believed dead.

The religious leader of the Iranian-backed organization, Sheikh Hassan Nassrallah would kidnap more Israelis unless negotiations for release of 13 terrorists held in Israel would reopen. "We will give the negotiations on the issue of prisoner and detainees a last chance," he said. And in his customary manner he added a cryptic statement about the fate of Mr. Tennenbaum, who is believed by Israelis to be alive.

Meanwhile, a former Israeli army tracker yesterday found the body of Oleg Shuichat, a 20-year-old soldier who had been missing for over a week and who had become the subject of a nationwide search that included over 1,000 volunteers.

The body was discovered buried in an area between two Arab villages in the Galilee region of northern Israel.

Police officials said they were convinced that the perpetrators were either Palestinian or Israeli Arabs.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofax said that Mr. Shuichat was murdered right after he went missing. Security officials warned that Palestinian Arabs might increase attempts to kidnap Israelis for the purpose of murdering them or to be held for negotiations in return for terrorists held in Israeli prisons.

J4JP Note

Here is what Esther Pollard wrote about the above article in a letter to Jonathan:

" appease public opinion, the Prime Minister's office leaked word of the petition to the media as if he were actually planning on taking it to America. That's why we started to see all these bogus stories about how Sharon was planning to push for your release when he meets with Bush. I am enclosing one of the more interesting ones, from the New York Sun for you. It is titled: "Sharon To Ask for Israeli Prisoner Release" Note that the source of disinformation in the article is "a senior official traveling with Mr. Sharon." *

*[Quote excerpted from Part I: Esther Pollard Updates Jonathan About Recent Events in Israel - J4JP Release - August 5, 2003]

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