Syrian Minister Says Assad Seeking Hostages Freedom
PARIS (AP) _ Syria’s defense minister said in an interview with a monthly magazine that his government was doing all it could to secure the release of 14 foreigners held hostage by extremists in Lebanon.
″As far as the French and other foreigners kidnapped in Lebanon are concerned, President Hafez Assad has given orders that all be done so that they can be found and returned,″ Mustapha Tlass said in an interview with the magazine ″France and the Arab Countries.″
The magazine, which appeared earlier this week, quoted Tlass as saying he had discussed the hostages’ plight with Lebanon’s Shiite leader, Nabih Berri; Druze leader Walid Jumblatt; and Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the reputed leader of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, which means Party of God, is the hardline Moslem group which, along with Berri’s Amal militia, held 39 Americans hostage in Beirut after their TWA flight was hijacked last month on a flight from Athens to Rome.
Tlass said Fadlallah ″promised us the maximum would be done″ to secure the release of the foreigners.
″As far as Islamic Jihad is concerned you have to take into account that orders sometimes come from Iran. It’s a very complex situation due to the consequences of the Gulf War and fighting in Lebanon and not resolving the Palestinian question. But Berri has promised us that the French will be in Damascus very soon.″
Islamic Jihad, whose name means Islamic Holy War, is the shadowy Lebanese group that has claimed responsiblity for most of the kidnappings. The belligerants in the Gulf War are Iran and Iraq, who have been fighting a bloody border dispute for nearly five years. Civil war raged in Lebanon for 10 years until Syria intervened and enforced a tenuous cease-fire several months ago.
Tlass also was quoted as saying that an envoy of the French government ″has just had talks with Berri on this subject,″
President Francois Mitterrand’s foreign affairs adviser, Hubert Vedrine, visited Lebanon and Syria last week.
The Frenchmen held in Lebanon are diplomats Marcel Carton and Marcel Fontaine, missing since March, and journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann and researcher Michel Seurat, who were kidnapped near Beirut airport May 21.
No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction of Alfred Yagoubzadeh, 26, an Iranian photographer working for the French agency, Sipa, or Wajed Ahmed Doumani, 56, the Kuwait Embassy press attache.
Among the missing Americans are William Buckley, 56, an embassy political officer; the Rev. Benjamin Weir, 60, a Presbyterian minister; the Rev. Lawrence Jenco, 50, a Roman Catholic priest; and Terry Anderson, 37, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press.
Also kidnapped were two American University of Beirut faculty menbers, librarian Peter Kilburn, 60, and agriculture dean Thomas Sutherland, 53, and the American University Hospital director, David Jacobsen, 54.
A previously unknown group, the Revolutionary Organization of the Socialist Moslems, claimed responsibility for the March 25 kidnapping of Alec Collett, 63, a British journalist working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.