Israel releases 9 prisoners in deal for Mossad agents
October 13, 1997
Web posted at: 7:23 p.m. EDT (2323 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Nine handcuffed Arab prisoners were flown
to Jordan Monday as part of a trade that secured the return
of two Israeli secret agents in the wake of a bungled
Israel Radio said the nine -- eight Palestinians and a
Jordanian -- are among dozens of prisoners Israel has agreed
to release in exchange for the Mossad agents. The agents were
captured after trying to kill Khaled Meshaal, the political
chief of the Islamic group Hamas, September 25 in the
Jordanian capital of Amman.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu persuaded Jordan's
King Hussein to agree to the swap, and last week Israel freed
20 prisoners, including Hamas' founder and spiritual father,
Sheik Ahmed Yassin.
Israel has promised to free as many as 50 more in an attempt
to soothe ruffled feelings after the assassination attempt
soured relations with Jordan and Canada -- the agents used
fake Canadian passports -- and brought a firestorm of
criticism down on Netanyahu.
"From time to time, we have to pay a price for something
which you had to do," Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said
Monday. "I think we are not going to release any Hamas
(activists) which would be dangerous."
An Israeli Prison Authority list showed that all but one of
those freed Monday were jailed on offenses such as possession
of weapons or explosives and membership in terrorist groups.
The ninth prisoner was serving a three-year sentence for
robbery. None had been involved in attacks on Israelis.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli prison services said the
prisoners would be held in a Jordanian prison.
In return for Israel's prisoner releases, Jordan has freed
two Israeli Mossad agents involved in the assassination
Israel said that it will continue to work with Jordan, which
had been Israel's friendliest Arab neighbor until the attempt
But a Jordanian newspaper said Sunday that Jordan had
expelled Mossad agents over the attack, and Jordan's Deputy
Prime Minister Jawad al-Anani said cooperation with Israel
had been curtailed by the Meshaal incident.
"I believe that the number of security staff in the Israeli
embassy has decreased as a result of that thing, so this is
the main indicator to the slackening security cooperation in
that area," he told Israel Radio's English-language service.
In the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu has been sharply
criticized by opposition lawmakers for having a junior
minister defend his government during a debate over his
performance in office and his handling of the Meshaal affair.
"Once again he is shunning parliament and is failing to
report to the public and publicly elected officials," Labor
party legislator Haim Ramon said Monday.
Science Minister Michael Eitan, speaking on Netanyahu's
behalf, said above the shouts of critics: "You say yourselves
we have to battle terrorism everywhere. This government is
doing that. It is battling terrorism."
But he added: "There was an operational malfunction."
Meanwhile, at An Najah University on the West Bank, about
4,000 people attended a Hamas rally celebrating Yassin's
return to Gaza.
It featured the burning of an Israeli flag and eight Hamas
activists dressed as suicide bombers, wearing white death
shrouds and belts with fake explosives chanting "Ahmed
Yassin, you are our hero! We are your soldiers!"
Also on Monday, Israel's army said it will demolish the homes
of three Islamic militants who carried out two suicide
bombings in Jerusalem this summer and seal the home of a
fourth bomber. The attacks in late July and early September
killed 21 Israelis.
The families, in Asira al-Shamaliya near Nablus, were given
48 hours to object to the army orders. A fifth bomber still
has not been identified.
Finally, a Palestinian official said U.S. Middle East peace
envoy Dennis Ross plans to return to the roiling region
Saturday to continue efforts to salvage peace talks between
Israel and the Palestinians.
Correspondent Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.