Some of the estimated 8,000 Palestine Liberation Organization prisoners being held in Israeli internment camps may be put on trial on charges of committing crimes in Israel, an Israeli offical said today.
The official said no trials of Palestinian guerrillas being held by Israel are now scheduled. But, he added, "If we are holding individuals charged with committing a crime in Israel, I can see where we could have trials."
The fate of the PLO prisoners is one of the many questions not addressed by the agreement for the withdrawal of the Palestinian guerrillas from Beirut.
Israeli officials have flatly turned down suggestions that some of the PLO prisoners be exchanged for the Israeli pilot and soldier whose return Israel demanded before the evacuation could begin. Officials today also denied reports in the Israeli press that there is an understanding that some of the guerrillas will be released after the evacuation from Beirut is completed.
Israel has said it is willing to exchange prisoners with Syria as part of a second-stage agreement on the withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli troops from Lebanon. But the status and fate of the PLO prisoners, considered "terrorists" by the Israelis, are far from clear.
Early in the war Israeli officials said that the captured Palestinians would not be regarded as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, although they would be treated as if they had POW status.
An Israeli law empowers the government to prosecute PLO members as members of a hostile organization. Israeli Justice Ministry officials have been studying the status of the PLO prisoners since June, but have not announced their conclusions.