U.S. Asked Swiss Foreign Minister to Appeal to Berri for Release of Hostages As Humanitarian Gesture

The United States asked Swiss Foreign Minister Pierre Aubert a week ago to appeal to Shiite leader Nabih Berri for the release of 40 American hostages in Beirut on humanitarian grounds, informed sources in Bern told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today.

Aubert, who has met several times with Berri in Lebanon and in Switzerland, is regarded as the Western diplomat who knows him best. The Americans contacted Aubert last Wednesday, the sources told the JTA. On Thursday, apparently responding to Aubert’s call, Berri said the hostages would be released if Israel freed the 766 Shiites it holds in the Atlit detention camp.

On Friday, Aubert briefed Israel’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Yohanan Maroz, on his contact with Berri, the sources said. Maroz told the JTA today that the Foreign Minister had in no way suggested that Israel free the Shiite prisoners. “Aubert was just informing me of his moves which were made at the request of other parties, ” the Israeli envoy said. “Other parties” presumably referred to the U.S.

Yesterday Israel released 31 Shiites from Atlit and transported them to Lebanon. The Israeli authorities insisted this was in no way linked to the hostage crisis but was part of an ongoing process of freeing Lebanese nationals detained by Israel.

RED CROSS PREPARED TO HANDLE EXCHANGE

Jean Jaque Kurtz, a spokesman for the International Red Cross in Geneva, told the JTA here today that the Red Cross is prepared to handle a possible exchange of the hostages for Shiites held in Israel if and when an exchange is agreed to.

He said however that neither the Red Cross nor the Foreign Ministry believes there will be an exchange in the immediate future and “a lot of patience is needed.”

The American delegation which arrived in Switzerland last week departed yesterday. Alexander Hay president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),is due back here tomorrow from Washington where he met with President Reagan last week. The ICRC said Hay will not hold a press conference or divulge any information about his talks with Reagan.

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