Kidnappers Say Cicippio Will Be Freed at 4 a.m. EST
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ A Shiite Muslim group said it would release American hostage Joseph Cicippio on Monday, and the United Nations reported ″important progress″ in freeing the remaining Western hostages.
The announcement followed the release Sunday of 25 Arab detainees by Israel’s allied militia in southern Lebanon. It also came after last month’s releases of American Thomas Sutherland and Briton Terry Waite.
The Revolutionary Justice Organization, in a statement delivered before dawn to a Western news agency and the independent Beirut newspaper an-Nahar, said it would free Cicippio at 11 a.m. local time (4 a.m. EST).
The statement was authenticated by a photograph and a videotape of Cicippio, 61, of Norristown, Pa., who was acting comptroller of the American University of Beirut when he was abducted Sept. 12, 1986.
There was no new word from the kidnappers on weekend news reports that Alann Steen, another American hostage, would be freed by Wednesday and that the only other American hostage, Terry Anderson, would be out within 10 days. Two Germans and an Italian also are missing in Lebanon.
″The Revolutionary Justice Organization announces that it will free the American Joseph Cicippio at 11 a.m. at the Beau Rivage Hotel,″ the nine-line Arabic statement said.
It said U.N., Syrian and Iranian officials should come to the hotel to take delivery of the educator.
The group has delivered similar invitations to attend hostage releases at the Beau Rivage only to have the captive be freed elsewhere, then driven to Syria.
In the poor-quality, two-minute videotape, Cicippio appeared without the bushy beard he had been shown with in previous pictures. He wore eyeglasses and a dark sweater over a white shirt.
″The Revolutionary Justice Organization has been good to me and cared for me very well during the period of time that I have been with them and have always rendered to my needs in a humanitarian way,″ Cicippio said.
He spoke in a steady voice, and appeared to be reciting a memorized statement.
He thanked U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and his envoy, Giandomenico Picco, for their mediation efforts.
″I demand and hope that the secretary-general will use all efforts to obtain the release of all detainees throughout the world and Israel,″ he added.
The written statement said the organization had received ″reassuring guarantees″ about future moves by the United Nations to gain the release of Arab prisoners held in Israel, Israel’s self-styled ″security zone″ in southern Lebanon and in Europe.
The United Nations has been seeking to arrange a comprehensive swap of Western hostages and the hundreds of Arab detainees.
″The elements of trust are decisive and matters will progress toward the better,″ the statement concluded.
Meanwhile, Picco was in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he met with Syria’s foreign minister.
A U.N. statement, issued at Picco’s request in Damascus late Sunday, said: ″A basic understanding has also been reached on a comprehensive approach to the remaining humanitarian issues,″ including the freeing of Lebanese detained by Israel and its proxy force in south Lebanon, and toward recovering Israelis missing or dead in Lebanon.
Both factors are key to resolving the hostage ordeal, which U.N. Perez de Cuellar said would be over by Christmas.
The U.N. statement said that after the latest round of negotiations, ″important progress has been made on the road to a solution of the issue of the Western hostages in Lebanon.″
The statement provided no details.
An earlier statement from Revolutionary Justice delivered to a Western news agency in Beirut said the kidnappers decided to free Cicippio within 48 hours after ″positive results″ from negotiations among the United Nations, Syria, Lebanon and Iran.
″It looks real,″ Cicippio’s Lebanese wife, Elham, said in Beirut of the promise to free him. ″Inshallah (God willing) it will be true.″ Cicippio’s brother Thomas said in Norristown that he was on ″pins and needles″ hoping for Cicippio’s freedom.
The kidnappers’ earlier communique said the United Nations had agreed to push Israel to free more Arab detainees.
Israel, in a statement from its defense ministry, said the 25 detainees were released in response to a request by Perez de Cuellar for a gesture to help the process.
Israel said its hostage-negotiation team had been in contact with the secretary-general and his aides to discuss an overall hostage deal including word on the fate of four Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon.
In Damascus, Picco met Sunday with Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa to thank Syria for its help in freeing the hostages, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
The 25 Arab detainees were released from the Khiam prison in Israel’s self- declared security zone in southern Lebanon, and all but four left the Israeli-controlled area.
The fundamentalist Shiite Muslim faction Hezbollah, or Party of God, drove the released prisoners to a mosque in southern Beirut where about 500 relatives waited.
One ex-prisoner, Ghassan Baydoun, 31, said he was ″very, very happy to get out after spending six years and three months at Khiam prison.″
Since September, Israel and the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army militia have released 91 prisoners and returned the bodies of nine Arab guerrillas.
The release of hundreds of Arabs held by Israel and its allied militia in southern Lebanon has been a key demand of Shiite kidnappers.
Steen, a journalism professor at Beirut University College, was kidnapped Jan. 24, 1987 by the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press, was seized March 16, 1985, by another group, known simply as Islamic Jihad. Anderson is the longest held hostage.