BEIRUT — Syria said Saturday that it would not wait long for kidnapers to release American journalist Charles Glass, but a Shia Muslim leader reportedly warned he might be killed if Syria attacks.
Meanwhile, two rival Shia factions battled in south Beirut's slums, where many of the 25 foreign hostages are believed to be held.
The Syrian military command in Beirut called for the quick and unconditional release of Glass, 36, a Los Angeles native; and Ali Osseiran, 40, son of Lebanon's Defense Minister Adel Osseiran, said sources close to the command who spoke on condition of anonymity.
More than a dozen kidnapers grabbed the pair Wednesday in south Beirut's seaside Ouzai district. It was the first abduction of a foreigner in Lebanon since the Syrians entered Muslim West Beirut on Feb. 22, and it raised the number of kidnaped Americans to nine.
Major Challenge to Syria
Syria deployed 7,500 troops in West Beirut to curb three years of anarchy caused by fighting between Lebanon's Muslim and Christian militias. The kidnapings were a major challenge to its attempt to pacify the city.
The Ouzai district is a stronghold of Hezbollah, or Party of God, the Iranian-backed Shia extremist faction.
The Syrians telephoned their demand for the release of the two men Saturday to Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the nation's most influential Shia cleric and spiritual guide of Hezbollah, the sources said.
The sources said the Syrians also called other Shia factions in Beirut and repeated the demand.
Won't Wait 'Too Long'
"The Syrian command has warned that it's not going to wait too long for its demand to be met," said one source close to the command. "It made it plain . . . that it wants both men freed unharmed quickly and unconditionally. The Syrians simply cannot afford to let the kidnapers get away with it."
Another source said, "The Syrians will take whatever measures required to gain the release of the two men."
It was unclear what action the Syrians would take if the hostages were not freed. Several radio stations in the capital's Muslim and Christian sectors said the Syrian army might move into the southern suburbs.
The Christian-controlled Voice of Lebanon radio station quoted Fadlallah as warning the Syrians against any military action in the south Beirut slums.
Won't Guarantee Safety
"I will not be able to guarantee Glass' life in the case of a Syrian military assault," he was quoted as telling officers of the Syrian command.
Fadlallah's office refused to comment on the report and on Syria's demands.
Fadlallah said in a statement published earlier by several Beirut newspapers that neither he nor fundamentalist Muslims in general should be blamed for the abduction of Glass and Osseiran.
In south Beirut, police said three combatants were killed and 11 wounded before a truce was declared in fighting between the prominent Shia Mokdad clan and supporters of Akel Hamieh, military commander of the Muslim sect's mainstream Amal militia.
The fighting erupted over a territorial dispute, according to police.
The staccato sound of gunfire and shell blasts echoed across the capital as the rival militias fought street battles in the densely inhabited suburbs of Roweiss and Haret Hreik.
The sprawling Haret Hreik is widely believed to be the area where pro-Iranian Shia extremists are holding many of the 25 foreign hostages kidnaped since March, 1985.
The hostilities were not connected with the hostages, police said.