American hostage Terry Anderson marked his sixth year in captivity Saturday and, despite increased U.S. hopes for his freedom, Shiite Muslim clerics in Beirut said no release was imminent.

Lebanese newspapers Saturday published letters from his family and friends to Anderson, the longest-held of the 13 Westerners missing in Lebanon.It was not known if Anderson would see the messages, but his Shiite Muslim captors are known to have sometimes allowed him to read newspapers and see television appearances by his family.

His sister, Peggy Say, who has campaigned tirelessly to secure Anderson's freedom, said she hopes this year will bring his release.

"Soon, God willing, you will all be free," she wrote. "But until then, know that your fellow Americans salute you and pray every day for your continued strength and courage."

Beirut's six Arabic language dailies published the letters, and the leading paper, An-Nahar, also published the original English texts. Anderson did not speak Arabic when he was kidnapped.

The pro-Syrian ash-Sharq daily headlined its report: "The dean of Western hostages begins his seventh year in captivity."

Anderson, 43, of Lorain, Ohio, is chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press. He was kidnapped on March 16, 1985. The pro-Iranian Shiite group Islamic Jihad said it holds him.

The other missing Westerners are five Americans, four Britons, two Germans and an Italian. Most are believed held by fundamentalist Shiite factions.

President Bush, visiting Bermuda, was asked Saturday about Anderson's plight. "We're raising it every chance we get, and will continue to," Bush said.

The weekly magazine ash-Shiraa quoted an unnamed senior Syrian source as saying that Syria and Iran also "agreed on the need to work for the release of the foreign hostages in Lebanon."

In Lorain, Ohio, church bells tolled and a new American flag was raised as residents of Anderson's birthplace gathered to remember him.

About 30 people, including Anderson's cousins and an uncle, tied a large yellow ribbon to the flagpole outside City Hall during a brief ceremony sponsored by The Free Terry Anderson Committee. A ceremony has been held here every year since his disappearance.

An honor guard for a local veterans' group fired a three-gun salute and a new American flag was hung in Anderson's honor. Mayor Alex Olejko said a new flag is raised every year on the anniversary.

*****

(Additional information)

Stamp it `urgent'

In a city of 1.4 million people and a reputation for chaos, is it possible that a letter with only a name and "Beirut" for an address can be delivered? The answer is yes, if that name is Terry Anderson. As the longest-held Western captive, Anderson is seen as a sort of spokesman for the others, and cards are often addressed, "Hostages, c/o Terry Anderson."