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PLO Says Arab Exiles Are Still Planning to Sail Back to Israel

February 12, 1988|From Times Wire Services

ATHENS — A ship chartered to carry at least 131 Arab exiles back to Israel will sail within 36 hours, the Palestine Liberation Organization said Thursday, charging that an earlier departure was delayed by Israeli threats.

Bassam abu Sharif, political adviser to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, told reporters the departure of the ship was delayed because of Israeli threats against the lives of Greek ship owners and captains. He said their families also were threatened.

However, one ship owner, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "The PLO have been shopping around for a ship for some days, but I haven't heard of the Israelis threatening any owners. . . . I wouldn't be interested in chartering to the Palestinians and I don't think many owners whose ships work in the eastern Mediterranean would be."

New Departure Set

Abu Sharif said after the ship failed to sail for Haifa as scheduled Wednesday that a new departure time was set and that the boat would sail within 36 hours. He did not give a more specific time.

Sotiris Costopoulos, a Greek government spokesman, said Thursday reports that Athens was being pressured by Israel to bar the ship from sailing were "absolutely groundless."

Akram Hanieh, a PLO press liaison officer, denied speculation the voyage had been canceled because of the PLO's failure to charter a vessel.

"There definitely is a ship," Hanieh said, declining to mention its name or the exact departure time or date. "We will inform journalists two hours before it is due to sail."

Exiles and Observers

In addition to 131 Palestinian exiles, the ship also is to carry foreign observers and journalists.

The PLO withheld the vessel's name after the owners of the 18,000-ton Silver Paloma, chartered earlier, unexpectedly announced the cancellation of the charter, without giving a reason.

The PLO said the exiles were from among about 2,500 forced to leave their West Bank and Gaza homes since the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel took over the areas. Israel recently has been confronted with protests over its continued rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has denounced the PLO plan, and Israel has said it will turn away the ship if it enters the Jewish state's territorial waters.

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