The 735 prisoners are part of the nearly 1,200 Lebanese and Palestinians captured during Israel's three-year occupation of southern Lebanon. The main demand of the Shiite Muslims who hijacked TWA Flight 847 on June 14 was that Israel release 766 mainly-Shiite captives being held at Atlit prison in northern Israel.
Last Monday Israel freed 31 of the prisoners -- 25 Shiites and six Sunni Muslims -- in what it claimed was a move completely unrelated to the hijackers' demand. Including these 31, Israel has released nearly 500 of the 1,200 prisoners, who were transferred to Israel from southern Lebanon between April 1 and 3. An Israeli military source said before last Monday's release that of the 766 prisoners at Atlit, 570 were Shiites, 147 were Palestinians, and the rest were Druze, Christians, and Sunnis.
The United States and the International Red Cross protested the transfer of the Lebanese to Atlit, saying it violated the 1949 Geneva Conventions which prohibit the forcible transfer of prisoners to the territory of an occupying power. Israel responded that the articles cover prisoners of war and that it was not at war with Lebanon.