Friday, May 24, 1991

Secy. of State Baker modifies 5/22 statement concerning Israeli settlement-building as an obstacle to peace, notes that "other obstacles" present equal difficulties. Baker was criticized by American Jewish organizations, some U.S. senators, for singling out Israel in his remarks. Pres. Bush backs Baker's criticism of Israeli settlement building. (NYT, WP 5/24)

Israel begins airlifting remaining 16,000 Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia to Israel in "Operation Solomon" following secret talks with the collapsing government of Ethiopia. 5/22 letter from Pres. Bush to acting Ethiopian Pres. Lt.-Gen. Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan promising U.S. mediation efforts in Ethiopian civil war in return for unrestricted Jewish emigration paved way for airlift. Bush had earlier written Ethiopian Pres. Mengistu Haile Mariam in April urging release of the Jews. Unnamed U.S. official states Bush asked Israeli Prime Min. Yitzhak Shamir not to settle the Ethiopians in the occupied territories. Aide to Shamir confirmed Israel told U.S. it had "no intention" of settling immigrants on what he termed "occupied land." Simha Dinitz, Israel'senior immigration official, confirmed that none would be placed in occupied territories. Western relief workers complained that valuable resources expended on operation could have been used to aid Ethiopian famine victims remaining in Ethiopia. Airlift comes as Israel is struggling to absorb nearly 250,000 Soviet Jewish immigrants who arrived in past 20 months. 12,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in "Operation Moses" in 1984 before Arab criticism prompted Ethiopian government to halt exodus. 8,000 others came to Israel after emigration resumed on small scale in 1989. By beginning of 1991, more than 20,000 Ethiopian Jews were living in Israel. (NYT, WP 5/25, 5/26; LAT 5/27; NYT 6/6)

U.S. state department issues cautious statement on 5/22 Syrian-Lebanese treaty, noting that it will monitor events to determine if Lebanon's independence is respected. (WP 5/25)

Israeli Def. Min. Spokesman Danny Naveh states that Israel will release all Lebanese prisoners held by Israel, including alleged Hizballah spiritual leader Shaykh 'Abd al-Karim 'Ubayd, in exchange for Israeli prisoners held in Lebanon. Hizballah spokesman added that Israel must release Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners, that Hizballah could only release those Israelis it holds and not those held by other groups. A total of seven Israelis were captured or reported missing in Lebanon since 1982 Israeli invasion, of whom only two are believed to be alive. Hizballah admits to holding two Israelis. Hizballah is seeking release of Shi'ites held both by Israel and Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army. Agreement came in wake of statement earlier in the week by Shaykh 'Abbas al-Musawi, new leader of Hizballah, that Hizballah would release the two Israelis if Israel freed Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners it held. The proposed exchange could lead to release of Western hostages held in Lebanon as well. (WP 5/25; NYT 5/26)

U.S. joins other 14 members of U.N. Security Council in voting to deplore 5/18 deportation of four Palestinians from Gaza. (WP, LAT 5/25; see JPS 80, doc. A5)