Syria today imposed a virtual blockade on Shia Muslim slums in south Beirut, where most foreign hostages are believed held, after kidnapers failed to release U.S. journalist Charles Glass with two other captives.
Sources close to the Syrian command said troops were ordered to maintain a close watch on all entrances to Shia neighborhoods and to stop any suspected militants from leaving the areas or entering Muslim West Beirut.
"Even their religious and cultural offices are going to be closed down throughout West Beirut. Troops are poised to begin the raids," one source said, referring to the pro-Iranian extremists. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Syria Threatens Kidnapers
The government of Syrian President Hafez Assad has threatened to crack down on "the terrorists who kidnap and hold innocent diplomats and journalists."
"Their strongholds are not impenetrable," Syria's state radio said in a sternly worded commentary broadcast Wednesday evening. "They shall be reckoned with." (Story on Page 5.)
The commentary implied possible reprisals against the crowded Shia slums, which have been outside the control of the 7,500 Syrian troops sent into West Beirut on Feb. 22 to end three years of militia anarchy. Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, maintains 25,000 more soldiers in northern and eastern parts of the country.
Syria's anger was aroused when the kidnapers, believed to be Shia militants, freed Ali Osseiran, the son of Lebanon's defense minister, and his driver Wednesday, but kept Glass, a former ABC correspondent from Los Angeles. The three men were abducted together eight days ago near a Syrian checkpoint in south Beirut.
Osseiran's driver, police bodyguard Suleiman Salman, said in an interview published today that Glass was separated from the two Lebanese men the day after their June 17 abduction.
Salman, 27, was interviewed in his hometown of Kosseibeh in south Lebanon by Beirut's leftist As Safir daily.
He was quoted as saying he and Osseiran were blindfolded throughout their one-week ordeal and could not tell where they were held.
"I was hearing and distinguishing that Ali was next to me," Salman said. "I heard Glass for one day and then I didn't hear him speaking any more."