Italian officials search for diplomatic solution to hijacking of luxury liner

The Italian government says it is exploring every alley to find a diplomatic solution to the hijacking of the Italian luxury liner Achille Lauro. Since the hijacking was announced Monday night, Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and his top aides have been closeted in almost continuous meetings.

Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini has publicly expressed hope for a ``political solution'' rather than a military one. But as of this writing, he had refused to give any other details of the government's preparations, beyond confirming that the Italian armed forces have been put on alert.

Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti was equally reticent, commenting that with ``lives in danger, the less said the better.''

But the government silence has led to much speculation.

``The guarded statements of government officials lead one to believe that at least they know quite a bit more than they are saying,'' one government observer here said.

Meanwhile, family members of the crew of the Achille Lauro crowd around spokesmen and bulletin boards in the Naples office of the Lauro fleet, clamoring for news. Italian television and radio have been broadcasting continuous bulletins, giving fragmentary news, rumors, and hypotheses.

Foreign Minister Andreotti did, however, comment on the identity of the Palestinian hijackers of the ship. He said he believed that ``they are a group of dissidents whose chief is someone opposed to the official PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization],'' and against its leader, Yasser Arafat.

In recent weeks, Italy has been hit with a series of terrorist acts from Palestinian extremists, including two recent bombings. The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Italy is one of Western Europe's main supporters of the PLO. Some analysts suggest that extremist opponents of Arafat, with whom Italy has friendly relations, might be behind the attacks. But Defense Minister Spadolini said, ``We have suffered damage from Middle East terrorism for the last 15 years and we are continuing to be hit by it.''

He argues that Italy's channels of communication are open with nearly all Mideastern countries, including Israel.

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