Fadlallah Cites ‘Positive Elements’ on Hostages
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the nation’s most influential Shiite Moslem cleric, was quoted today as saying ″elements of a solution″ exist in the dispute over Western hostages in Lebanon.
But Fadlallah, spiritual guide to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Party of God, said there was no truth to reports he was asked to help find a solution to the hostage crisis. Most of the 18 Western hostages in Lebanon are believed held by groups linked to Hezbollah.
Fadlallah made his remarks in an interview with the pro-Syrian Ash-Sharq newspaper.
″There are positive elements, within the context of what we detect through media reports in more than one place, that suggest elements of a solution exist in the hostage crisis,″ Fadlallah said.
Asked whether he was contacted about the hostages by Jimmy Carter during the former U.S. president’s recent Middle East peace mission, Fadlallah said:
″There is no connection at all ... because I am not involved directly or indirectly in the core of the problem.″
″But I always try to raise responsible words, with which I address those concerned with this issue, in order that this case be closed once and for all,″ he said.
Fadlallah traveled to Damascus during Carter’s visit to the Syrian capital earlier this month, but diplomatic sources said the two did not meet.
Fadlallah’s remarks came four days after his press office quoted the cleric as saying in a radio interview when asked about the possibility of a hostage release:
″A new situation has emerged, but I don’t know when, how or where.″ The statement did not elaborate.
Fadlallah’s remarks heightened speculation there was movement in efforts to secure the release of the hostages. They are eight Americans, four Britons, two West Germans, two Swiss, an Irishman and an Italian.
The longest held is Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press. He was kidnapped in Beirut on March 16, 1985. Several other captives have been held for almost as long.
Repeated statements from Iranian and Lebanese officials as well as editorials in Tehran newspapers in recent weeks have fueled speculation a release was near.
In an editorial Sunday, the English-language Tehran Times said ″Iran will of course use its good offices with the Lebanese groups ... to facilitate the release of Western hostages.″
The Tehran Times, which often reflects the thinking of Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, sparked a flurry of speculation about a possible release when it said last month that ″1990 can and will be the last year of captivity for these hostages.″
Moderates led by Rafsanjani have said the issue is moving toward a solution, but his hard-line opponents contradict that view. Iran’s former hard-line interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, argued against the hostages’ release in a signed editorial in a Tehran newspaper earlier this month.
Mohtashemi helped found Hezbollah in 1983 and is believed to have more clout with the kidnappers than Rafsanjani. He said in the Farsi-language Kayhan that some of the Western hostages were spies and ″the sentence for a spy in an Islamic country is death.″