Shiite Moslem leader Nabih Berri accused the United States today of treachery for failing to secure the freedom of all Lebanese prisoners held by Israel in what he said was a Syrian-arranged exchange for the American hostages of the Trans World Airlines plane hijacked last month.
Berri's criticism came as 100 more prisoners, most of them Shiites, arrived in Lebanon after being freed by Israel. They were among 735 whose freedom was demanded by the TWA hijackers, and their release leaves about 335 in Israeli hands. Press reports in Tel Aviv said the remaining prisoners would be freed in three groups at two-week intervals.
Berri criticized Israel's piecemeal approach in releasing the prisoners despite what he described as international commitments made to Syria and subsequently to him, commitments that the United States denies making.
"It was presumed that all prisoners should be freed, not in installments with widening intervals in between," Berri complained. "Once again, the United States is resorting to treachery and reneging on international commitments."
Berri, chief of the Amal Shiite movement and Lebanon's justice minister and minister for southern Lebanon, negotiated on behalf of the Shiite militants who hijacked the TWA plane to Beirut on June 14 and demanded the release of the Atlit prisoners.
He has just returned from a two-week visit to Syria and his remarks reflected discomfort with the delays in releasing the prisoners in a deal seen by many here as sealed with Washington via Damascus.
The leader of the mainstream Amal movement is said to feel that he put his personal and political credibility on the line when he agreed to intervene as interlocutor for the hijackers, adopting their demands. He also greatly endangered his standing with Shiite extremists already challenging his authority by appearing as protector of the American hostages.
The last 39 American captives were released by the hard-line Hezbollah faction, according to accounts here, in return for a verbal pledge communicated by Syrian President Hafez Assad that the Lebanese prisoners -- who had been captured by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon and transferred to the prison in Israel -- would be let go soon thereafter.
Israeli and U.S. officials have denied any link between the outcome of the TWA hijacking and the release of prisoners from Atlit. Israel has said the timing of their release depends on improvements in the security situation in southern Lebanon.
According to accounts here, Assad had managed with skillful wording to obtain from the Americans what he and his Lebanese ally perceived were guarantees for the eventual release of the Lebanese prisoners.
Berri complained today that since Israeli forces were continuing to raid southern Lebanese villages and arresting scores of young men, Israel thus "has not really released anyone in the quantitative sense of the word."
He accused the United States of abandoning its commitments for Israel's sake.
The 100 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners released today crossed the Israeli border to freedom and a warm welcome from relatives and friends. Well-wishers stood along the winding road from Ras Bayada, at the entrance to Israel's self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon, to Tyre, Sidon and other towns.
Many of those released complained of maltreatment by Israel and vowed to mount further attacks against Israelis or their local allies, the Christian-led South Lebanon Army as long as Israel holds Lebanese prisoners.
"If there is one prisoner left, we will do anything, and the Israelis know this," Jamal Safieddin said upon reaching Tyre. "We will not sleep and we are not afraid. We can do whatever is needed."
Adnan Wehbe, 31, a pharmacist, who said he had been confined to a cell for 4 1/2 months with other inmates, said Israeli captors kicked him in the abdomen during interrogations and used torture techniques such as depriving him of drinking water. He claimed the Israelis offered him money if he agreed to collaborate with them to control southern Lebanon once freed.