A moderate Lebanese militia on Saturday staged a dramatic raid on pro-Iranian extremists, rescuing three Irish soldiers who had been kidnapped a day earlier in south Lebanon.
Also Saturday, PLO chief Yasser Arafat indicated he had been involved in the release a day earlier of a Swiss Red Cross official, and a leading Shiite cleric said he had suspended efforts to free 14 other hostages because they had reached a "dead end."Lebanese police said the mainstream Shiite Moslem militia Amal freed the three Irishmen, who were serving with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, while seizing more than 100 members of Faithful Resistance, a small, fanatic affiliate of Hezbollah.
The Irishmen were abducted Friday in Tibnin, a village bordering Israel's self-proclaimed security zone. The abductions apparently were intended to retaliate for Israel's seizure Thursday of Faithful Resistance guerrilla commander Jawad Kasfi in Tibnin.
Police sources said the kidnappers demanded that UNIFIL negotiate with Israel for the release of Kasfi and three other guerrillas seized Thursday by Israel "for interrogation" about acts against Israel. Israel later released two of the seized men without identifying them, saying they were not involved.
The Israeli military command said Kasfi was suspected of organizing and participating in kidnappings and dozens of attacks against Israeli army forces and an Israeli-backed militia, the South Lebanon Army, since 1984.
A Lebanese police spokesman identified the three rescued Irish soldiers as Corp. Patrick Maeken, 35, Pvt. Brian Kearney, 25, and Pvt. Bernak McCarugmey, 30.
He said Amal militiamen surrounded a house in the village of Sultaniyeh, and the men inside surrendered and released the three Irish soldiers. The house was one mile southwest of Tibnin, where the 620-strong Irish batallion serving with UNIFIL is headquartered.
UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel said Amal returned the three to their command. "They are in good shape," Goksel said in a telephone interview.
Red Cross worker Peter Winkler, 32, was freed Friday night in the southern city of Sidon, where he was abducted Nov. 17. Police said Winkler boarded a ferry Saturday at the Christian port of Jounieh, heading for Cyprus. The Swiss Foreign Ministry earlier said Winkler would fly home via Cyprus Sunday.
Arafat indicated Saturday he had played a role in the release when he was in Geneva last week to address the United Nations.> "When I was in Geneva, the chief of the Red Cross asked me to help release the Swiss employee, and he has been released," Arafat said.
In Bern, Swiss Foreign Minister Rene Felber said Saturday that talks between a Swiss official and Arafat had proved "useful.">