Berri Reportedly Warned U.S. on Prisoners in Israel
Lebanese and U.S. officials say Shia Muslim militia leader Nabih Berri had warned the United States in recent weeks that the detention of up to 800 Shias inside Israel could have dangerous consequences, it was reported today.
One Lebanese source said Berri, who is helping negotiate the release of the remaining hostages from TWA Flight 847, telephoned Reginald Bartholomew, the U.S. ambassador to Beirut, last week and urged him to help obtain the release of the Shias to help ease tensions in south Lebanon, the Wall Street Journal said.
The article said State Department officials said there is no record in Washington of such a call. However, they added, Berri’s concern about the detainees was no secret.
In Washington today, a State Department official who demanded anonymity said Berri had expressed concern to the United States before the TWA hijacking about Israeli detention of the Shias, who were taken into custody during Israel’s recent withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
But the official denied that Berri had warned Bartholomew that the Shias’ prolonged imprisonment could have dangerous consequences.
The newspaper said U.S. and Lebanese officials do not think Berri, a Lebanese Cabinet minister, was personally responsible for the hijacking.
Rather, they said, they believe it was done by an Amal splinter group known as Al-Wiat Al-Sadr, or the Sadr Brigade, a faction headed by a Shia militant named Akel Hamiyeh, who goes by the nom de guerre Hamzah.
The two hijackers and the 15 or so men who joined them are mostly relatives or friends of the Shia detainees, according to Berri.
The newspaper said, however, that the hijackers do not seem to be related to the pro-Iranian Shias who call themselves Islamic Jihad, which has taken responsibility for a wave of suicide bombings against American facilities in Lebanon.