Reports Say Some Hostages Will Be Freed
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Persistent reports that some Westerners kidnapped in Beirut were about to be released attracted a throng of reporters to hotels in Damascus, Syria, but an informed source said there was no reason to believe any release was imminent.
″I am in a position to assure you that all the gossip about the release of any hostage is without foundation at all,″ the source said Sunday, speaking on condition neither his name nor location be disclosed.
A French hostage negotiator, Omran Adham, was known to be in the Syrian capital, but the source said he was on private business. In the past six months, Adham has made frequent trips to Syria to try to gain the release of the nine missing Frenchmen.
Reports in the Beirut press this weekend fueled speculation that freedom could be near for some of the captive Frenchmen, as well as for some of the five Americans kidnap victims missing in Lebanon.
A report te, West Germany and the Vatican would lead an initiative to win the hostages’ freedom and resolve Lebanon’s civil war.
An-Nahar said contacts were under way through diplomatic channels in Paris, Bonn and Rome, as well as in Lebanon and Syria, to set the stage for the reported European initiative.
On Saturday, the Beirut newspaper As-Safir quoted unidentified sources as saying eight of the Frenchmen would be released, four within two days and four a week later.
The same day, the pro-Libyan magazine Al-Shiraa carried a one-paragraph report saying that ″an informed political source has disclosed that six hostages, three Americans and three French, will be freed shortly.″
Neither publication identified the hostages to be released, and there was no indication from U.S. or French officials that they had knowledge of imminent releases.
Today, an anoymous telephone caller claiming to speak for the shadowy Shiite Moslem extremist group Islamic Jihad told the Christian Voice of Lebanon radio that the group would release two of the captive Frenchmen today.
But there were strong doubts over the authenticity of the claim, as all previous claims made to the station by callers claiming to speak on behalf of Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War, have proven wrong.
Unconfirmed reports Sunday in Beirut said the French hostages were moved to a secret location in Syrian-controlled eastern Lebanon pending their release in Damascus.
European reporters and television crews began streaming into the Syrian capital and checking into hotels to await the release of the French hostages after As-Safir reported what it said was a breakthrough last week in backstage contacts in Syria, Lebanon and Iran.
As-Safir has not said who was involved, but said the efforts excluded the five American hostages because of the U.S. air raids on Libya on April 15.
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa, interviewed Sunday in Damascus on the CBS News program ″Face the Nation,″ said his government was working to secure the release of the American and French hostages.
But, he said ″I can’t feel very optimistic when I don’t have tangible grounds for that.″
Sharaa said Syria did not know where the hostages were because their captors ″move them from one place to another and keep their hideout very secret.″
Islamic Jihad has said it kidnapped the Americans and four of the Frenchmen. The group, which is said to be linked to Iran, said it killed two hostages, U.S. Embassy political officer William Buckley and French researcher Michel Seurat, but their deaths have not been confirmed.
In addition to Buckley, the Americans are Terry A. Anderson, 38, chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press; the Rev. Lawrence Martin Jenco, 50, a Roman Catholic priest; David Jacobsen, 54, director of the American University Hospital; and Thomas Sutherland, 54, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut.
Besides Seurat, the Frenchmen said to be held by Islamic Holy War are Marcel Fontaine, 45, a French Embassy vice consul; Marcel Carton, an embassy protocol officer; and journalist Jean-Paul Kauffman.
A group calling itself the Revolutionary Justice Organization claimed responsibility for the March 8 kidnapping of four members of a French television crew.
The four, employees of television station Antenne 2, are Philip Rochot, 39; Georges Hansen, 45; Aurel Cornea, 54; and Jean-Louis Normandin, 34.
The ninth Frenchman, retired car dealer Camille Sontag, 85, was kidnapped May 7. No group has claimed responsibility.