Iran's official news agency and Middle East sources said Saturday that a Western hostage held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian Moslem fundamentalist groups may soon be freed.
The Iranian News Agency, or IRNA, did not identify which of the 16 Western hostages would be let go, but Damascus-based diplomatic sources said it would likely be Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite while a source in the Lebanese capital of Beirut said it may be Irishman Brian Keenan.The Damascus sources said Waite's church had extended significant aid to the victims of last month's earthquake in Iran, which killed an estimated 40,000 people. A spokesman for the Anglican Church in London would not put a dollar amount on the aid, which he said had been channeled through a handful of private agencies.
Ireland, meanwhile, has attempted in recent months to forge stronger ties with Iran and three Irish senators visited Tehran a week ago to appeal for Keenan's release.
IRNA quoted well-informed sources in Beirut as saying that a Western hostage would be released and that he probably would be a European.
Ten Europeans and six Americans are still held in Beirut by pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem groups, which have demanded the release of Shiite prisoners held in Israel and other concessions.
Iran has maintained publicly that it is not connected with the fundamentalist groups, but is widely believed to hold great sway over the kidnappers.
Well-connected Middle East sources confirmed the IRNA report, saying a Western hostage would likely be released.
A pro-Syrian official in west Beirut said there were serious efforts to free a Western hostage and "something might show up within the coming few days."
Two American hostages, Robert Polhill and Frank Reed, held in Lebanon by a pro-Iranian group, were set free in Damascus this spring in what sources said was a goodwill gesture by Iran.
In Beirut, a spokesman for Hezbollah said Saturday his group had no connection with the IRNA report.
A Moslem official in Beirut, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said information he had received from Iran led him to believe Keenan would be Keenan set free.
Keenan, a Belfast native who holds dual Irish and British citizenship, was an English teacher at the American University of Beirut when be was abducted April 11, 1986, on his way to work.