Syria Tells Hezbollah to Release US Journalist, Defense Minister’s Son
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Syria demanded Friday that Iranian-backed Shiite Moslems free U.S. journalist Charles Glass and the defense minister’s son, whose abductions were a major blow to its attempt to establish order in Beirut.
No group claimed responsibility for the seizure Wednesday of Glass, 36, and Ali Osseiran, 40. Glass is the ninth American held captive after being kidnapped in Beirut.
Kidnappers who seized Elie Srour, head of Lebanon’s small Jewish community, more than two years ago said Friday they had killed him in retaliation for Israeli raids on Shiite villages in south Lebanon.
The statement, delivered to the independent Beirut newspaper An-Nahar, was handwritten in Arabic and signed by a group calling itself the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth. With it was a photograph of Srour, 70, an electrical engineer kidnapped March 28, 1985, in Moslem west Beirut.
There was no reference to an announcement by the same group Dec. 31, 1986, that Srour had been executed on that day together with two other Lebanese Jewish hostages.
Senior Syrian officers demanded the release of Glass and Osseiran in pre- dawn telephone talks with leaders of the fundamentalist Hezbollah, or Party of God, according to sources close to the command of Syria’s 7,500-man security force in Moslem west Beirut.
″No threats were made,″ said one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ″But it was clearly stated that the Syrian command regards the abductions as detrimental to Syria’s role in safeguarding west Beirut’s security.″
The Syrians stopped short of flatly blaming Hezbollah for the kidnappings, apparently seeking to avoid an open confrontation with the Shiite militants and a rift with Iran, the source said.
Asked about reports that the Syrians had issued a 48-hour ultimatum ending at noon (5 a.m. EDT) Sunday for the release of the two men, the source said: ″I don’t think a deadline has been set. But the Syrians adopted a tough stand and will take all required measures to bring about their release.″
The source denied reports that the kidnappers contacted the Syrian command seeking a deal to release Osseiran, a Shiite engineer, and Glass, a Los Angeles native who left ABC television to write a book about the Middle East.
Osseiran’s 82-year-old father, Defense Minister Adel Osseiran, told CBS television in an interview conducted in English at his Beirut home that ″Hezbollah is the party that has kidnapped them.″
But he told The Associated Press in Arabic: ″I have been told that Hezbollah carried out the abductions. But I personally make no accusations.″
Fourteen gunmen in four cars intercepted the pair 350 yards from a Syrian army checkpoint near a Hezbollah base in Ouzai, a Shiite neighborhood on the southern edge of Beirut. Glass and Ali Osseiran were riding in Osseiran’s chauffeur-driven car from the southern port of Sidon to Moslem west Beirut.
Police said the kidnappers dragged Glass out of the car, hit him with rifle butts and stuffed him into the trunk of one of their cars, then took Osseiran when he told them to stop.
The sources said the Syrian command contacted Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Hezbollah’s spiritual guide, to demand their release.
Hezbollah is believed to be an umbrella for pro-Iranian extremist factions that have claimed responsibility for kidnapping most of the 25 foreigners now missing after being kidnapped in Lebanon in the past two years.
Syria sent 7,500 troops into Beirut on Feb. 22 to quell three years of fighting among militias.
But so far, the Syrians have not tried to move into south Beirut’s teeming slums, a Hezbollah stronghold where some of the hostages are believed held, because it wants to avert an open clash with the Shiites. Syrian troops killed 23 Hezbollah members Feb. 23, and the militants have vowed revenge.
As a television newsman, Glass was noted for his coverage of the 1985 hijacking of a TWA plane by Shiite gunmen. He interviewed the pilot, Capt. John Testrake, at Beirut airport while one of the hijackers looked on.
Police declined comment on speculation that Glass was grabbed to stop him from testifying against Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a Lebanese Shiite suspected of being one of the hijackers. Hamadi was arrested in Frankfurt earlier this year.
The Al-Nidaa daily, the Lebanese Communist Party’s newspaper, reported Friday that Glass’ abduction was ″linked to the kidnapping of the two West Germans in Beirut last January.″
It quoted unidentified sources as saying Glass ″came to Beirut with the objective of interviewing″ one of the Germans.
No group has claimed to hold the Germans. But Hamadi’s brother, Abdul Hadi, a senior Hezbollah security official, reportedly planned their kidnappings to trade them for his jailed brother.
Glass is the second American journalist now held after being kidnapped in Lebanon. Terry A. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, was abducted from a west Beirut street on March 16, 1985. He has been held longer than any other hostage.
Before Wednesday, the last abduction of foreigners in Beirut was Jan. 24, when gunmen disguised as security police kidnapped American educators Robert Polhill, Alann Steen and Jesse Jonathan Turner and Indian professor Mithileshwar Singh from the U.S.-affiliated Beirut University College.
The other American hostages are Thomas Sutherland, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut; Joseph James Cicippio, acting comptroller at the university; Frank Herbert Reed, the American director of the Lebanese International School; and Edward Austin Tracy, a writer.
The other missing foreigners kidnapped in Lebanon include six Frenchmen, two Britons, an Irishman, an Italian, and a South Korean. Two other foreigners, whose nationalities are not known, also were abducted.
Also missing is Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite of Britain, who disappeared after leaving his west Beirut hotel Jan. 20 for a meeting with the kidnappers of two of the missing Americans.