The International Red Cross hinted it may suspend operations in Lebanon unless a kidnapped Swiss employee is released, and Palestinian groups vowed to "exert all kinds of pressure" against the abductors.
Peter Winkler, 32, a Red Cross director in southern Lebanon, was snatched from his chauffered car by three gunmen early Thursday near the Palestinian Ain El Helweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon."We call on the persons holding Peter Winkler to free him immediately so that he can continue his relief mission," the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement late Thursday.
"Our neutral and independent organization can continue its duties only if it is not exposed to pressures," the statement said. "Only under this condition, the Red Cross can continue its services to all parties."
Security sources said the three kidnappers, brandishing automatic rifles and pistols, intercepted Winkler's car in broad daylight in an area controlled by pro-Iranian Lebanese zealots.
The sources said Winkler, who directed Red Cross operations in the Zahrani and Nabatieh districts in the south, had been traveling toward the Shiite village of Zefta, 8 miles southeast of the port city of Sidon, 24 miles south of Beirut.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but sources close to the Palestine Liberation Organization Fatah group of Yasser Arafat in Sidon blamed the Fatah Revolutionary Council, a radical group led by the notorious Sabri Al Banna, better known as Abu Nidal.
A spokesman for Arafat's group said the kidnapping was an "attempt to smear the image of the Palestinians in Lebanon" by opponents of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile's proclamation of a Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied territories. The PNC meeting, which concluded Tuesday, also adopted resolutions renouncing terrorism.
The abduction of Winkler raised to 15 the number of kidnapped foreigners in Lebanon, including nine Americans and Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite., who disappeared in Moslem west Beirut in January 1987.