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Release of Shiite Prisoners Overshadowed By Other Events With AM-Hostages, Bjt

December 5, 1991

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ While the freeing of three American hostages in three days received wide international news coverage, the weekend release of Arab prisoners by Israel attracted little attention even in their native Lebanon.

The Israeli-affiliated South Lebanon Army militia freed 25 prisoners Sunday in an effort to speed the release of Western hostages held by pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim factions in Lebanon.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah organized a welcome at southern Beirut’s Great Prophet Mosque for the freed prisoners, most of whom were Shiites, and announced a news conference by them for Monday.

But the news conference was later called off without explanation. A Hezbollah source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was canceled because reporters were preoccupied with other events.

Daily newspapers Monday ran front-page pictures of the released Shiite prisoners, but the news coverage focused mainly on efforts by U.N. mediator Giandomenico Picco to obtain freedom of the remaining Western hostages.

The leftist newspaper as-Safir’s front-page story was about how remaining hostages were expected to be freed by Christmas, with American Joseph Cicippio expected to be out Monday. He was.

The pro-Syrian newspaper Ash-Sharq’s did not publish any pictures of the released Shiite prisoners on its front page.

An-Nahar, the nation’s leading morning newspaper, made the Shiite prisoner release a front-page story, but it was part of a story focusing on the possible release of American hostages.

An-Nahar’s separate story on the released Shiite prisoners was published on an inside page and did not include any interviews. It only listed the names of those released and how they reached Beirut from Israel’s self-proclaimed ″security zone″ in south Lebanon.

Mustafa Ahmed of the Lebanese Communist Party’s resistance department complained that the released Shiite prisoners ″haven’t been getting the attention they deserve from the government.″

The prisoners released by Israel on Sunday were the third batch since Sept. 11, An-Nahar’s editor Francois Akl noted.

″Such releases have become a routine, especially since the last batch did not include any main figures like Sheik Abdul-Karim Obeid,″ he said.

Obeid, a Hezbollah cleric, was kidnapped by Israeli troops from his southern village of Jibsheet in July 1989. His release has been demanded by Hezbollah as well as the kidnappers of Western hostages.

″Had the released prisoners included Obeid, the coverage would have been more extensive,″ Akl said.

Thursday’s papers ignored a Hezbollah-sponsored demonstration Wednesday that protested against the Arab-Israeli peace talks, mainly due to their preoccupation with the release Wednesday of American journalist Terry Anderson, the longest-held foreign captive.

Another American, Alann Steen, was freed a day earlier.

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