PARIS — Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam said today that Americans and Frenchmen kidnaped in Lebanon are being held in Muslim West Beirut and not in an area under Syrian control.
"The hostages are not in the Bekaa (Valley)," Khaddam said. "They are in another region where there are no Syrian forces."
The hostages had been thought to be in the Bekaa.
Khaddam told a news conference that although Syrian forces are in West Beirut, they are not in control of the area where the hostages are being held by extreme Muslim fundamentalists.
Khaddam's statements on the final day of an official two-day visit to France were the closest a Syrian official has come to publicly revealing the whereabouts of the hostages kidnaped during the last 2 1/2 years.
Khaddam said Syria was sparing no efforts to secure the release of Western hostages in Lebanon "for humanitarian reasons." He said Damascus drew no distinction between French and American hostages.
"We are making the same efforts for the Americans as for the French," Khaddam said. "But we have no new information about their (the Americans') release."
There are 16 hostages--seven Frenchmen, five Americans, two Britons, a South Korean and an Irishman--still missing. An Italian who disappeared last year is also feared kidnaped.
It had been generally assumed that most, if not all, the hostages were held in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley--a hotbed of Muslim fundamentalists and an area that is at least in principle under control of an estimated 25,000 Syrian soldiers stationed there.