Syrian Defense Minister Says Syria Working On Freeing French Hostages
PARIS (AP) _ Syria’s defense minister said in a radio interview broadcast today his country would use force to free French hostages held in Lebanon ″if we knew where they were.″
In an interview with the French station Europe-1, Gen. Mustapha Tlass said negotiations have taken place between Syria and ″the group holding the hostages.″ Two groups have claimed responsibility for kidnapping eight French men, but Tlass did not say which group Damascus had negotiated with.
″We are not only hopeful but also are certain they will be freed,″ he said of the French hostages.
Syrian President Hafez Assad ″had spoken with Iranian President Ali Khamenei to get him to exert all possible pressure to liberate the hostages,″ Tlass said.
The defense minister said the release of the French hostages had been delayed ″for a certain amount of time″ by ″American aggression against Libya and continuing U.S. threats against Syria.″
Islamic Jihad, whose members are believed to be loyal to Iran’s fundamentalist Shiite leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has claimed responsibility for kidnapping four French hostages. The group said it killed one hostage, research analyst Michel Seurat, but his body was never found.
The group also has said it kidnapped five Americans.
Another group, calling itself Revolutionary Justice, has said it kidnapped four members of a French television crew. A ninth Frenchman also was kidnapped in Lebanon, but no group has claimed responsibility.
″If we knew where the hostages were we would have freed them, even by force,″ said Tlass. His statement about negotiations with the kidnappers came after days of speculation in news reports in France and Lebanon that the release of the hostages was imminent.
On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond said French government efforts to free the hostages ″appear to be progressing, in particular since contacts made last week″ with Iranian officials. He was referring to a visit to Paris last week by an Iranian delegation led by Deputy Premier Ali Reza Moayeri.
Raimond said France expected the Tehran government to ″help us settle problems for which it is not directly responsible but to whose solution it can contribute, thanks to its influence.″
On Tuesday, an anonymous caller told the Christian Voice of Lebanon in Beirut that Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War, was killing American, French and British hostages, but no bodies were found. It seemed to be the second hoax in as many days.
In the interview, Tlass rejected accusations by the United States and Israel that Syria was involved in terrorist activities in Europe.
He accused the United States of ″remote control″ guidance of bombings in Syria ″using the (Central Intelligence Agency) as an intermediary.″
Tlass also accused West Germany of encouraging terrorism in Syria. Issam Attar, one of the leaders of the clandestine Moslem Brotherhood opposed to the Syrian government, lives in West Germany.