BONN (Sep. 22)
Israel will have to release all Arab detainees from its prisons if Westerners held hostage by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon are to be freed, the visiting Syrian foreign minister, Farouk a-Sharaa, told reporters here last week.
He said his country hoped Israel would comply for humanitarian reasons. But he denied Syria was making a resolution of the hostage situation dependent on what Israel does.
“We want to contribute to end this tragedy,” the minister said last Thursday after meetings with top officials here, including President Richard von Weizsacker.
There was a flurry of hope when the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army released 51 Lebanese and Palestinians from detention at a prison camp in the southern Lebanon security zone Sept. 11.
There were indications at the time that an American captive, Joseph Cicippio, and a Briton, Jack Mann, would be freed in exchange.
But the only reciprocation was the return to Israel of the body of Sgt. Samir Assad, a Druse soldier in the Israel Defense Force who was kidnapped in Lebanon in 1986 and died in captivity.
The pro-Iranian Revolutionary Justice Organization in Beirut called the Israeli-SLA act “incomplete” and has refused to free any Western captives until at least 20 more Arab prisoners were released by Israel.
The group wants the release of Sheik Abdul Karim Obeid, spiritual leader of a faction of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah, whom Israeli commandos seized from his home in southern Lebanon in July 1989.
His release at this point is unlikely, inasmuch as the Israelis consider Obeid their most valuable bargaining chip.
MAY HAVE SUGGESTED A DEAL
And introducing yet another complication, it was reported over the weekend that Hezbollah is now trying to link the release of British hostages to a literary prize awarded to writer Salman Rushdie. Rushdie is under a death threat from Iran for his book “The Satanic Verses.”
Syria until now has remained on the sidelines of the hostage crisis, claiming it had no influence with their captors.
But Sharaa, aware of the concern here over the fate of two Germans among the Western hostages in Lebanon, is believed to have made some suggestions in his talks with German officials on how to cut a deal with Shi’ite extremists for their release.
Germany has rejected demands that it release the brothers Mohammed and Abbas Hamadei, but lately has been reported considering a swap.
Mohammed Hamadei was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in a German court for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jet and the murder of an American passenger, U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem. Abbas Hamadei was sentenced to 13 years for his role in kidnapping two German nationals in an attempt to effect his brother’s release.
Germany refused to extradite Mohammed Hamadei to the United States and Washington agreed reluctantly to let him be tried by a German court. The Americans are vigorously lobbying the Germans not to release him from prison for any reason.