A Shiite Moslem leader said Saturday that kidnappers holding foreign hostages and threatening to hurt the American ones were committing an "unforgivable crime."
Nabih Berri, who heads the mainstream Shiite Amal militia, spoke in an interview with The Associated Press after the Islamic Jihad, a pro-Iranian fundamentalist faction, warned it would punish American hostages it is holding.The Islamic Jihad threat was in retaliation for Friday's Israeli air raid on Lebanon that killed 16 people and injured 34. Israeli planes also flew over the pro-Iranian extremist stronghold of Baalbek in east Lebanon Saturday, police said, but no attacks were reported.
Berri's Syrian-backed militia has been locked in a fierce struggle with pro-Iranian fundamentalists for mastery of the Shiite community. It has no influence on the kidnappers.
Berri praised a suicide car bombing Wednesday that killed seven Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon, prompting the Israeli air raid on guerrilla bases. But Berri said that U.S. support for Israel should not lead to punishing the hostages.
"We are against America's policy, against America's support of Israel and against the American administration. But we are not at all against the American citizens," he said.
He called the kidnapping "an unjustified, unforgivable crime."
The kidnappers, Berri added, have "inflicted the most severe damage to their goals and the goals of their allies." That was an indirect reference to Iran, which is believed to be the kidnappers' main backer.
In its statement on Friday, Islamic Jihad, or Islamic holy war, accused the United States of giving Israel advance approval of the air attack.
It said: "The criminal America must realize it will not get away with what it has done, especially in connection with the hostages we hold."
The group holds at least two American hostages: Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press; and Thomas Sutherland, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut.
Anderson is the longest-held foreign hostage in Lebanon. He was kidnapped March 16, 1985. Sutherland, of Fort Collins, Colo., was seized three months later.
Anderson and Sutherland are among nine Americans believed held by pro-Iranian extremist factions linked to Hezbollah, or Party of God, the main militia challenging Berri's Amal among Lebanon's Shiites. Others believed held are three Britons, an Irishman and an Italian.
Asked if he believed the foreign hostages would be released soon, Berri said that would happen "only if deals were struck between the kidnappers and the hostages' governments."
"No deal. No release," Berri said.