A Beirut newspaper said Wednesday that Western hostages, including six Americans, held mainly by pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim factions in Lebanon will be released this week.
The conservative Ad-Diyar newspaper said in a front-page report that the Americans would be freed Friday at an unnamed hotel in Beirut in the presence of Interior Minister Sami Al-Khatib and the commander of Syria's military intelligence in Lebanon, Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan."They will then be transported to Damascus where Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa would turn them over to the American ambassador," the newspaper reported.
The report, attributed to unnamed sources "close to circles interested in the release of the Western hostages," said the remaining hostages "would probably be released the coming Saturday in the presence of the ambassadors of their respective nations in Lebanon."
The sources, the report said, "stressed that the release of the Western hostages held by some fundamentalist factions in Lebanon would be carried out this week."
Ad-Diyar, which is based in Christian East Beirut, does not have a record of accurate reporting on the 13 Westerners missing in Lebanon, who include four Britons, two Germans and an Italian.
The report came a few hours after a group holding two American hostages demanded the release of a Shiite cleric, Sheik Abdul-Karim Obeid, and other prisoners held by Israel as a precondition for freeing the kidnapped Americans.
The Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine, which has held Americans Jesse Turner and Alann Steen for four years, offered to talk if Israel releases an unspecified number of Muslim prisoners including Obeid.
The typewritten Arabic message was delivered to the independent Beirut newspaper An-Nahar and a Western news agency office in Beirut, accompanied by a photograph of hostage Turner, who was kidnapped on Jan. 24, 1987.
Obeid, an activist of the Hezbollah or Party of God - believed to be an umbrella group for the hostage-holders - was kidnapped by helicopter-borne Israeli troops from his hometown of Jibsheet in south Lebanon in 1989.
Turner, 43, of Boise, was a visiting professor of mathematics and computer science when he was kidnapped from the U.S.-affiliated Beirut University College.