The Palestine Liberation Organization today demanded that Israel give it a complete list of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli hands in exchange for allowing the International Red Cross to talk to eight Israeli soldiers captured by the PLO in the mountains east of Beirut last weekend.
Official PLO sources said the demand was made to the International Red Cross after a meeting between their officials and a member of the humanitarian organization. The meeting took place in the Syrian-occupied Bekaa Valley of Lebanon where the eight Israeli soldiers are being held.
The PLO action was revealed as Israeli Air Force jets attacked and destroyed a Syrian SA9 antiaircraft missile battery in the Lebanese village of Dahr al Baydar, six miles east of the mountain town of Bhamdun. It was near Bhamdun that the eight Israeli soldiers were captured by a PLO unit operating from behind the Syrian cease-fire lines last Saturday.
"Every missile battery like this brought in [to Lebanon] will be destroyed," Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said in Jerusalem tonight in announcing the Air Force action. "I hope this warning will be heard in Damascus."
State Department spokesman John Hughes said yesterday that the United States is "extremely concerned over reports of renewed military activity in the Bekaa and holds the strong view that all involved should act with restraint." Hughes said the latest violence underscores the "utmost importance of the earliest withdrawal" of all foreign forces from Lebanon.
Israel has held Syria directly responsible for the capture of its eight soldiers. The PLO, however, announced yesterday that its "joint forces," a euphemism for the PLO alliance with Lebanese leftist militias, had carried out the raid and were holding the Israeli soldiers. They later let a British television camera crew film one of the captured Israelis sitting underneath a photograph of PLO Chairman Yasser Araft.
The PLO said its demand for a list of Israel's prisoners was coupled with another request for Israel to acknowledge that Palestinians captured during the Israeli invasion were prisoners of war and entitled to the protection of the Geneva Accords.
Since Israel's invasion of Lebanon June 6, about 7,400 Lebanese and Palestinians have been imprisoned in a cramped and primitive prison camp outside the town of Ansar, six miles from the Mediterranean Sea. The Israeli authorities have refused to grant these internees the status of prisoners of war, maintaining they are suspected "terrorists," not soldiers.
The issue of the Ansar prisoners, of which only 4,000 are actually Palestinians with the rest being either Lebanese or other foreign nationals, was left unresolved in the U.S.-brokered agreement that provided for the PLO's evacuation from West Beirut.
A PLO representative who is still in Beirut said that the capture of the eight Israelis was carried out in part to dramatize the situation of the Palestinian prisoners still in Israeli hands.
"We will send them the Israeli soldiers back, but first we want Israel to give us the names of all those it is holding," said the PLO official who preferred that his name not be used. "We want to know who they are holding, who is missing, who is dead."
Israel announced 10 days ago that it had begun to free prisoners from Ansar but only 240 prisoners have been released since the announcement, according to reliable Western sources.
Prior to these the only prisoners who have been let out of the prison that was set up in mid-July were about 200 youths, aged from 12 to 16 1/2, who were freed in late July for "humanitarian reasons." Conditions in the camp were originally considered crowded, primitive, and far below standards normally applied to prisoners of war.
Improvements were made after International Red Cross officials threatened to quit interviewing prisoners if they were not given better living and sanitary facilities.
Even so conditions today are still spartan. The camp is divided into barbed wire pens, with guard towers, where groups of 500 men are held. They have tents to protect them from the sweltering sun.
According to relatives of some prisoners, an undetermined number of them have been moved from Ansar to Israel's maximum security Megiddo Prison in northern Galilee for more intensive interrogation. Some have since been returned to Ansar.
"We want our men to be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions," said the Beirut PLO official, "just as we are treating their men as prisoners of war with full rights under the Geneva Convention."