The hundreds of Palestinian guerrillas captured in the Israeli Army invasion of Lebanon are not being regarded as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, Israeli military sources said today.
"They are terrorists. We don't refer to them as prisoners of war," an Army Command source said, emphasizing that the treatment of the captured guerrillas will be subject to review by the International Red Cross and that Israel will, on its own, make certain that their treatment conforms to the standards the Geneva Conventions call for.
While the issue is understood still to be under discussion in the Army Command, military sources said that Palestinians in Lebanon would be accorded protection under the Geneva Convention provisions governing treatment of civilian populations in occupied territories.
While Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, it has maintained since the 1967 Six-Day War that the conventions are not applicable to the West Bank and Gaza Strip because the status of those territories was unclear before the war. Prior to 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively.
Since 1967, Israel has maintained, however, that it has applied unilaterally the terms of the Geneva Conventions to the West Bank and Gaza.
An Army Command source, after checking with an Army legal adviser, said, "By the definition of the Geneva Convention, they Palestinian guerrillas are not prisoners of war, even though they might have been combatants captured in battle. They are terrorists."
Pressed to elaborate on the distinction, the source replied, "Ask our pilots captured by the Syrians whether they got treatment under the Geneva Convention."
"If you are talking about how many times the terrorists get a shower, or how many cigarettes they are entitled to, or whether they can take a walk every day, our military police will give them the same standard of treatment as the Fourth Geneva Convention. But they are not POWs," the Army source said.
Although Army officials declined to acknowledge it, refusal to grant internationally recognized prisoner-of-war status to the guerrillas apparently is the result of a political decision stemming from a reluctance of Israeli officials to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as a legitimate armed force.
Prisoners of war, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, include "members of armed forces, militias and voluntary corps, including organized resistance movements." But members of resistance movements are required to meet the following criteria:
That they are commanded by a person responsible for subordinates.
* That they have a "fixed, distinctive sign recognizable at a distance."
* That they carry arms openly.
* That "the conduct of their operations is in accordance with laws and customs of war."
While some of the criteria may be arguable, a military source said, the guerrillas clearly have not conducted their operations in accordance with laws and customs of war.
Army Command sources would not pinpoint the number of guerrillas captured, but said that the military police had constructed detention camps in Lebanon and in Israel. They said "hundreds" of Palestinians had been captured.
Israeli Army trucks filled with handcuffed and blindfolded prisoners have been seen leaving Lebanon for undisclosed sites in Israel.
Army officials said that the captured guerrillas included a few mercenaries from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and terrorists from Europe who presumably were undergoing training at PLO bases in Lebanon.