Five Hostages Meet press, Urge Israel to Free Shias : Oppose Any Intervention by Military
Five American hostages, brought to a news conference today by their Shia Muslim captors, implored Israel to facilitate their release by freeing 766 Shia prisoners.
They also appealed to President Reagan, “at all costs, that no direct military intervention take place” to rescue them from their captors.
Throughout the chaotic news conference the Americans were ringed by Shia Amal militiamen dressed in camouflage combat fatigues and carrying AK-47 assault rifles and handguns. Militiamen struck some reporters and smashed some photographers’ cameras.
Hostage Allyn Conwell, 39, of Houston began the press session in a transit lounge at Beirut airport by reading a statement on behalf of all the captives.
In it, he said the hostages are “disappointed” that the Reagan Administration has not done more to secure their release and added:
“We understand that Israel is holding as hostage a number of Lebanese people who undoubtedly have as equal a right and as strong a desire to go home as we do.
‘We Ask and Pray’
“The Israeli government reportedly has a plan of releasing these people. . . . We sincerely ask and pray that this task be expeditiously completed, especially now that the Israeli forces are (in the) south of Lebanon or almost out of this country.
“In our minds and to a man, we condemn hijacking or terrorism of any sort or nature. . . . But we do sincerely pray that the governments involved in this problem can put aside fear, anger and insult in the process of rectifying the wrongs committed to date.”
Thomas Cullins, 42, of Burlington, Vt., said the 40 hostages still held in Beirut “definitely fear” a U.S. rescue mission.
The other three hostages who appeared were Peter Hill, 57, of Hoffman Estates, Ill.; Vicente Garza, 53 of Laredo, Tex., and Arthur Toga, 33, of St. Louis.
Some Questions Allowed
All were allowed to speak, and reporters were allowed to ask several questions.
Conwell, in his opening statement, said he spoke on behalf of all 37 American hostages held by Shia gunmen in secret hideouts in and around Beirut. Three crew members are held aboard the hijacked Boeing 727 at the airport.
“I have been elected (to talk) by my fellow hostages who were taken on Flight 847 and are held hostage here in Beirut,” Conwell said.
“The purpose of our agreeing to talk with you tonight is primarily involved with assuring our families and fellow countrymen and our loved ones and friends that we are all in good health, that we are being cared for,” he said.
The clean-shaven Conwell went on:
“And in view of that I’d like to read to you a list of names of all of the people that I have personally met with today to verify their condition and their general well-being.
‘Act Like Gentlemen’
“In addition to myself, there is Rev. Thomas J. Dempsey. . . . Please, gentlemen, please be quiet and act like gentlemen, again I repeat, Rev. Thomas J. Dempsey.”
At this point his voice was again drowned by the noise of shouting and screaming photographers and television cameramen. In the melee of pushing and shoving, chief spokesman of the Shia Amal militia, Ali Hamdan, interrupted the news conference.
When things quieted, Conwell went on to read the names of all the 37 hostages he had personally seen and said they appeared to be well.
‘Let’s Do the Right Thing’
He said he was told that if the prisoners are not released, the hostages will be turned over by Amal leader Nabih Berri and his militia to the hijackers.
“Let me say, based on experience, I would find that most unappealing,” he said. “Let’s do the right thing as countries. Let’s do the right thing as people.”
Earlier, Berri said one hostage was ill and may be released soon. He also said he would accept Swiss mediation to trade the Americans for the Shias held in Israel.