Two French girls held hostage in Lebanon for 13 months by a Palestinian terrorist group rejoined their father and went into seclusion Friday in France. Their hometown, meanwhile, prepared a homecoming celebration.
The long journey home took Marie-Laure Betille, 7, and her sister Virginie, 6, by boat from Lebanon to Libya, where they were turned over to French officials and flown to France late Thursday.Their hometown of Ollioules, near Toulon, set up welcoming banners and French flags on its streets Friday. Mayor Rene Arnaud said the town would give the girls a belated Christmas celebration.
Left behind in the hands of Abu Nidal's Fatah Revolutionary Council, a Palestinian guerrilla organization, was their mother, Jacqueline Valente; a baby sister born in captivity; and five Belgians also seized aboard the yacht Silco off Israel's occupied Gaza Strip.
Their captors, who have been blamed for numerous terrorist attacks, said the girls' freedom was a gift to France from the children of the yearlong Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied territories.
French newspapers Friday suggested the release was a propaganda ploy by Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi to improve his image at a time when the U.S. government has raised concerns about an alleged chemical weapons plant in Libya. The Palestinian kidnappers are backed by Libya.
marie-Laure, Virginie and their father, Pascal Betille, arrived in a French government plane at a secluded military base near Marseille, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. They were then taken to a hospital for checkups and then to a secret location for sleep.