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U.S. Tries to Abate Mideast Strike Rumors

From Times Wire Services

The Reagan Administration, while continuing to build up U.S. forces in the Middle East, today urged “a little downgrading of the speculation” about the possibility of a U.S. military strike in the region.

While trying to quell rumors of military action, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater did not rule out that possibility.

“I can’t speculate on any future course of action,” he said. “We always do have substantial forces in the area but I would urge (you) not to speculate along those lines.”

His statement came as the Pentagon announced that a second Marine amphibious force had moved from Spain to the Mediterranean.

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Downgrades Rumors

Over the last week, the Pentagon has marshaled a strong battle group in the eastern Mediterranean in response to rising tensions in the Mideast and new hostage-taking in Lebanon.

Asked about rumors of military action if any hostages are killed, Fitzwater said: “I would urge a little downgrading of the speculation in that area. Our forces are there on what in many ways are normal activities and operations.

“The forces are there to protect our strategic interests and to support our friends in the region,” he added. “But we would not urge you to jump to any conclusions about any military activities.”

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Word on Waite

In another development, militia sources said they believe that Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, missing for two weeks, is being held in Beirut’s southern suburbs--a center of Muslim fundamentalism and rumored to be a possible U.S. target.

Waite was last seen Jan. 20 when he left his Druze escorts for a meeting with the kidnapers of Americans Terry A. Anderson and Thomas Sutherland.

Security sources, meanwhile, said three other kidnaped Americans and an Indian-born U.S. resident also are being held in the suburbs--at the house of a relative of Mohammed Ali Hamadi, who was arrested Jan. 13 at Frankfurt airport.

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Hamadi, caught trying to enter West Germany with explosives, is wanted by the United States on murder and air piracy charges in the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner.


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