Sons of two hostages still held in Lebanon find strength in unity. They are trying to work with other families to free remaining captives
| Los Angeles
The families of seven Americans still missing in Lebanon are trying new avenues -- even if they turn out to be blind alleys -- in hopes of gaining their relatives' release. For one, they are working to coordinate their own efforts to free all of the kidnap victims -- including four Frenchmen and a British citizen.
``From now on, I'm only going to speak about them as 12, not seven,'' declares Eric Jacobsen, whose father is one of the Americans most recently abducted. David Jacobsen, director of the hospital of American University in Beirut, was forceably taken by Shiite Muslim gunmen May 28 as he walked to work.
The younger Jacobsen says he has been in contact with other hostage families, who agree his new strategy will enable the families to speak with a stronger voice.
David Collett, son of United Nations employee Alec Collett of Britain, believes linking the Americans with the other hostages is essential.
``They all have to come out as one,'' he says. ``The fact that they come from other countries is irrelevant. We're talking about other human beings.''
Mr. Collett says the American, French, and British governments should act together. He has contacted French consular officials here, seeking names of the four French citizens held in Beirut and attempting to notify their relatives about the coordinated effort.
The two men -- Mr. Collett of North Hollywood, Calif., and Mr. Jacobson of Huntington Beach -- were first brought together after their recent appearance on a Los Angeles television program, when they urged that all of the remaining Beirut hostages not be forgotten. Both men say news media coverage is the key to their efforts.
``I think it's very important to have the media help maintain public awareness and public interest in this, because that will ensure that the US government will do everything it can to obtain the release of them,'' Mr. Jacobsen says.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Hassan Ali was quoted last week as saying that ``there is a chance'' the seven Americans could be released if the United States were to restore landing rights in the US to commercial Lebanese airlines. The ``boycott'' was instituted July 1 to protest the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 to Beirut by two Shiites.
Collett and Jacobsen have begun exchanging information, while each tries to buoy the other's spirits. Both say they would be willing to go to the Mideast to help obtain freedom for their fathers.
They are trying to arrange a meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad, who they feel is key to the release of all remaining hostages. President Assad is someone the hostage families say they can approach, since the identity of the kidnappers is unknown, Jacobsen adds.
``He seems to have had a great effect on the release of the 39 [TWA Flight 847] hostages. And from other people I've talked to who have worked there, they say he's the man,'' Jacobsen says. ``Even my father, before he was kidnapped, seemed to think President Assad has a lot of control over what goes on and is a man who has a lot of respect from the different . . . factions in Lebanon.''
Jacobsen and Collett closely followed the Trans World Airlines hijacking and hoped their fathers would be included when those hostages were freed.
``I was extremely disappointed that my father and the others were not among them,'' Jacobsen recalls. ``We had hoped that maybe, even on the drive from Beirut, they [would stop] in the Bekaa Valley, where they are supposedly being kept, and pick up the rest. . . .''
Both men say they are frustrated with the lack of concrete information about their fathers.
As with most of the Beirut kidnap victims, it's widely believed that a loosely organized group of fundamentalist Muslims, called Islamic Jihad, is responsible for Jacobsen's abduction. A few days after he was abducted in May, a photo of him was sent to his family.
Collett says a group calling itself the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims has claimed credit for the March kidnapping of his father. That group sent his family a crudely made videotape interview of the senior Collett last month. David said his father appeared weak and thin and was apparently coaxed to say he was well. The tape came in a package postmarked in Switzerland.
That's all the evidence they have showing their fathers may still be alive. Both are puzzled over why their fathers were kidnapped, since their work could be considered humanitarian.
``My father felt he was needed, he wanted to help,'' Jacobsen says. ``As a hospital administrator, they relied on his expertise.'' Ironically, David Jacobsen had received assurances from local militia leaders that he would be safe, his son adds.
Collett says his father ``worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, helping Palestinian refugees.''