Syria and Iran Say Israel Must Free Shi’ites Before Hostages Are Released

The Syrian foreign minister and an Iranian diplomat indicated Sunday that no more U.S. hostages would be released until Israel frees some 400 Lebanese Shi’ites it is holding.

Both Farouk a-Sharaa, the Syrian official, and Kamal Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, said this was the “goodwill” gesture their two countries were seeking for their help in gaining the freedom recently of two U.S. hostages held in Lebanon.

The two officials appeared on ABC-TV news program “This Week with David Brinkley.”

“I believe it is very easy for the United States government to contact Israel and convince them to release these hostages,” Kharrazi said.

Sharaa maintained that Syria and Iran both have only limited influence with the Lebanese groups that have taken hostages. He said the demand for Israel to release its prisoners was “not a precondition, not a deal” but a humanitarian gesture.

He blamed the hostage-taking and the anarchy in Lebanon on Israel’s June 1982 invasion of the country.

“There was no hostage-taking in Lebanon before the Israeli invasion in Lebanon in 1982.” Sharaa said.

He said that various groups in Lebanon took hostages in “reaction to the Israeli invasion, what happened to their families, their children, their houses, ‘demolitioning’ their houses, the continuing air raids.”

“This is an ethical issue,” he said. “How do you expect these people to be so humanitarian to release the American hostages and other Western hostages when their relatives have been kidnapped by Israel.”

MISSING ISRAELIS FEARED DEAD

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was scheduled to appear on the program, did not go on the air, because ABC would not accept his condition that he not be asked about the Shi’ite prisoners or Israeli soldiers held by Lebanese groups, said Sam Donaldson, who hosted the program Sunday.

But another guest on the program, Gary Sick, a staff member on the National Security Council in the Carter administration, said Israel is willing to release the Shi’ites, whom he called “counter-hostages,” but only if the Israeli soldiers are freed.

“They don’t want to get caught in a situation where the United States wants to gets its hostages back, but the Israeli prisoners are forgotten,” said Sick, an expert on Iran.

He said he believed only one of the Israelis, a navigator who bailed out when his plane was shot down, is still alive. He said two soldiers who were captured while on patrol in southern Lebanon are probably dead.

Kharrazi said Iran also wants the release of four Iranians taken in 1982 by Christian groups in Lebanon.

President Bush said last Thursday that as a goodwill gesture, the United States could seek to learn what happened to the Iranians, although the United States believes they are dead. But Kharrazi said he believes at least three of them are still alive.

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