Moslems Kidnap, then Release 65 Christians; American University Shelled
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Shiite Moslem gunmen kidnapped 65 Christians at high noon Sunday on the airport highway. Elsewhere in Beirut, Moslem-Christian gun barrages across the divided city hit American University and killed a student.
The captive Christians, men, women and children, were freed unharmed three hours after being seized in a shuttle bus and four cars.
The Shiites had demanded the release of a relative allegedly held by the Christians. It was not immediately known if he was freed.
It was the biggest mass kidnapping in months in Beirut, where scores of people are grabbed off the streets every week by gunmen.
Police said meanwhile seven people were killed and 33 wounded in artillery and rocket exchanges Sunday between Moslem and Christian militias across the 3-mile Green Line that splits the city into Christian and Moslem sectors.
It raised the toll since early Saturday to at least 16 killed and 91 wounded.
A spokesman at the American University Hospital said one student was killed and three were badly wounded, two of them women, when a single mortar round exploded on the tree-lined campus overlooking the Mediterranean.
Police said dozens of other rounds hit nearby residential neighborhoods of mostly Moslem west Beirut in the heaviest sectarian fighting in the city in two months.
Druse and Shiite Moslem militias retaliated with salvos of rockets into the Christian sector as fighting stepped up despite a Syrian-sponsored peace plan launched July 16.
Associated Press newsman Juan-Carlos Gumucio reported from west Beirut’s seaside Ein Mreissah neighborhood that Druse militiamen with jeep-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles were cheered by Moslems as the fighters moved up to the Green Line battlefront.
In Sunday’s mass kidnapping, 50 of the abducted Christians were riding to the airport on a shuttle bus and 15 were in four private cars. No one was hurt, said officials of Middle East Airlines and police.
Police said the Christians were stopped at a hastily erected Shiite checkpoint on the airport highway in the Shiite-populated southern suburbs.
Salim Salam, chairman of the airline, Lebanon’s national carrier, told the AP the gunmen took bus and cars to an undisclosed destination.
He said the kidnappers demanded the release of Fadi Hamadeh, a Shiite allegedly abducted Saturday by Christians as he drove into east Beirut. Police said the kidnappers were relatives of Hamadeh.
Three hours after the abduction, an airline spokesman, who refused to be identified, said all passengers were released unharmed and most of them went to the airport to catch flights out of the country.
Middle East Airlines began the shuttle bus service months ago between the Christian sector and the airport in west Beirut because travelers feared being kidnapped on the highway.
Shortly after noon, three shells hit a square in Moslem south Beirut, killing one person and wounding 12. Shiite militiamen then positioned a multibarreled rocket launcher and fired a salvo into the Christian sector that killed two people, police reported.
Police said that Green Line exchanges earlier in the day killed three people and wounded seven.
Shells exploded near President Amin Gemayel’s palace in Baabda suburb and around the Defense Ministry and residence of U.S. Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew in nearby Yarze, both east of Beirut. No casualties were reported.
Gemayel is staying at his summer residence in Bikfaya, northeast of Beirut.
The Sunday kidnapping incident demonstrated the fragility of the Syrian- sponsored security plan to end lawlessness and militia rule in west Beirut and its hijack-plagued airport.
The airport neighborhood, controlled by the Shiite Amal militia, in June was the setting in June for the 17-day hijacking of a TWA jetliner by Shiite sky pirates who took 39 Americans hostage.
Around Saturday midnight, Wajed Doumani, 55, a Kuwaiti Embassy press officer who was seized July 11, was released unharmed in west Beirut by his Shiite extremist captors, police said.
Doumani said his kidnappers, whom he would not identify, ″treated me well,″ a police statement said.
He was the third kidnap victim released in the last four days.
Robert Burkholder, a Canadian missionary who heads relief projects in Shiite-dominated South Lebanon, was let go Thursday after being held 12 hours.
Hours earlier, Shakib Hmeidan, Lebanese manager of the ABC television network’s Beirut bureau, was freed after five days captivity.
Seven Americans abducted in Beirut are still being held hostage.
Four Frenchmen, an Iranian and a Briton are also missing.