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Group Offers to Free Cicippio if Israel Frees Obeid, Prisoners

August 6, 1989

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ The pro-Iranian captors of American hostage Joseph Cicippio said Sunday they would free him immediately if Israel releases an abducted Shiite Moslem cleric and 150 Lebanese and 300 Palestinian prisoners.

The group, Revolutionary Justice Organization, also demanded that Israel allow all 55 Palestinians deported during the uprising against Israeli rule of the occupied territories to return home.

Also Sunday, a leader of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah said an Israeli soldier it holds could be killed unless Israel frees the cleric. The Hezbollah leader, Hussein Mousawi, also admitted for the first time that the party wields influence over the kidnappers of foreign hostages.

Israeli officials refused comment on both the Revolutionary Justice and Mousawi statements. Earlier, they said the cleric, Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, would only be freed if two Israeli soldiers and an air force navigator held in south Lebanon were freed.

In Washington, Bill Harlow, a White House spokesman, said, ″We wouldn’t comment on it in any way. ... We try not to react to each individual rumor or report. It’s a very fluid situation and that doesn’t do any good.″

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in Mexico City for a conference of U.S. and Mexican Cabinet members, was asked about the demands for Cicipio’s release and he said ″our well-established policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.

″If the United States were to get into that game, we’d simply see a lot more Americans taken hostage around the world.″

He reaffirmed the U.S. policy of neither concurring in nor objecting to the Israeli position of offering to negotiate with hostage-takers for the release of captives in Lebanon.

The proposal by the Revolutionary Justice Organization made no mention of freedom for any of the other 15 foreigners held in Lebanon.

It was contained in a handwritten statement, written in Arabic and delivered to the independent Beirut newspaper An-Nahar. An instant photograph of American hostage Edward Tracy, whom the group also holds, was sent along with it.

It was the first time Revolutionary Justice has said it would free Cicippio, 58, a hostage since Sept. 12, 1986.

The statement cited ″the flexible stances declared by the parties concerned and the encouraging regional developments that herald happy endings to the hostage problem″ for making the exchange offer.

The group threatened last week to kill Cicippio if Israel did not free Obeid, who is affiliated with Hezbollah and was abducted by Israeli commandos July 28. Israel accused Obeid of instigating attacks on the Jewish state.

Less than an hour before the deadline set for Cicippio’s death, Revolutionary Justice said it was ″freezing″ the execution order and substituting it with an ″initiative″ calling for Obeid’s release and freedom for Palestinian and Lebanese guerrillas held by Israel.

Sunday’s statement said the new demands represented the ″practical stages of the initiative,″ and added, ″Its success could be an adequate introduction to curb the dramatic developments of the hostages issue.″

In Norristown, Pa., one of Cicippio’s brothers, Thomas Cicippio, said he was not happy with the offer because it did not mention freedom for the other foreigners held in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, in the Lebanese town of Baalbek, Mousawi met with foreign reporters and was asked what would happen if Obeid were not freed.

″If we find out that the interests of Islam and Moslems and the interests of the oppressed dictates that one of the Israeli soldiers be killed, so will it be,″ he responded.

He also said that if the United States ″is able to help itself and help its hostages by stopping its support for Israel and by not participating in anything that hurts Moslems in Lebanon... this could encourage Hezbollah to think of a way to help resolve the hostage issue.″

Mousawi said some members of pro-Iranian organizations holding hostages are ″known to us, and we hold consultations with them from time to time.″

It was the first time Hezbollah has publicly acknowledged it has contacts with groups holding hostages.

It has denied having anything to do with the abductions but is generally believed to be the umbrella for Shiite Moslem extremists holding most of the captives.

Mousawi also lauded the reported slaying of U.S. Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, saying ″Bravo for the Oppressed on Earth, because challenging the Islamic nation should not continue.″ But he also said he could not confirm Higgins was dead.

The pro-Iranian Organization for the Oppressed on Earth claimed on July 31 that it had hanged Higgins because of Israel’s refusal to free Obeid. Higgins’ body has not been found.

There are 16 foreigners held hostage in Lebanon, including eight Americans. The hostage held longest is Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press. He was kidnapped March 16, 1985.

Cicippio was acting comptroller at the American University in Beirut when he was abducted. Tracy is a writer. His date of abduction is unclear, but Revolutionary Justice claimed Oct. 21, 1986, that it had abducted him.

The photograph with the statement Sunday showed Tracy from the waist up. He wore a brown t-shirt, had a bushy white beard and was smiling broadly as he looked into the camera.

Elsewhere Sunday, U.N. mediator Marrack Goulding said families of hostages in Lebanon should not lose hope and said there is a ″kind of subdued optimism″ about prospects for arranging a hostage swap.

He met Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk El Sharaa as part of his effort to break the stalemate in the hostage crisis and to determine Higgins’ fate.

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