Precede BEIRUT Hezbollah Chief Suggests Anderson, Waite Could Be Held Until Obeid Freed
BAALBEK, Lebanon (AP) _ A leader of Hezbollah, an umbrella group for hostage-holding factions, said today that American journalist Terry Anderson and Church of England envoy Terry Waite are the most valuable assets of the kidnappers.
Hussein Musawi, leader of a pro-Syrian faction of Hezbollah, or Party of God, was referring to the kidnappers’ views on efforts to swap the hostages for more than 300 Lebanese radicals held by Israel, including Hezbollah activist Sheik Abdul-Karim Obeid.
His comments appeared to suggest that Waite and Anderson were unlikely to be freed until Obeid is released in an overall exchange that U.N. Secretary- General Javier Perez de Cuellar is trying to negotiate.
However, Musawi said Israel’s failure to release Obeid with the next batch of prisoners ″would not cancel the whole effort″ to work out a comprehensive swap.
Obeid, 39, was kidnapped by helicopter-borne Israeli commandos from his village of Jibsheet in south Lebanon in July 1989. His release has been a key condition of the kidnappers for freeing the Western hostages.
The Israelis consider Obeid, who they identify as a Hezbollah leader, their most important Shiite prisoner.
″To some factions Terry Anderson could be more important than the rest, while to others Terry Waite could be more important,″ Musawi told The Associated Press, without elaborating on the status of the two captives.
Anderson, 43, is the longest held Westerner. The chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press, he was kidnapped March 16, 1985, and is held by Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War.
Waite, 52, disappeared in Beirut Jan. 20, 1987, while in the midst of efforts to help free the hostages.
Eleven Westerners are missing in Lebanon - five Americans, three Britons, two Germans and an Italian. Shiite leaders have said that one Briton and the Italian are dead.
Israel, in the three-way bargaining, is seeking information on five of its servicemen missing in Lebanon.
″If Obeid is included in the next batch of prisoners to be released by Israel, that would facilitate the whole effort. But the Israelis say he’s a major card and they might keep him in custody until later,″ Musawi added.
Israel released 51 Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of nine Muslim guerrillas last week in exchange for the remains of an Israeli soldier killed in Lebanon and confirmation that another missing soldier was dead.
On Thursday, the group holding Briton Jack Mann, the Revolutionary Justice Organization, said there would be no imminent hostage release unless Israel unilaterally freed 20 more prisoners.
Earlier this month, the Revolutionary Justice Organization had predicted a ″happy ending″ to the hostage deadlock, raising hopes for Mann’s release. The group also holds U.S. hostage Joseph Cicippio, 61.
Mann’s wife Sunnie flew to Cyprus today, where she said she would be staying for a short time to rest after having her hopes raised, then shattered.
″I’m afraid I’m not very optimistic now. I think it will be quite a long wait,″ she said. ″We really thought this time he was going to be free.″
Mann, a 77-year-old former World War II pilot, was kidnapped on May 12, 1989 as he was driving to a bank in West Beirut.
Meanwhle, President Elias Hrawi flew today to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly next week. There was no word on whether he would hold talks during his visit on the hostage situation.
However, a presidential palace statement said Hrawi was scheduled to hold talks with President Bush on Tuesday on U.N. Security Council Resolution 425, which calls for Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon to the internationally recognized border.
Israel controls the zone as a buffer against cross-border guerrilla infiltrations into its northern settlements.