End of a Sorrowful Saga

THE emotional and physical ordeal is over for Americans held hostage in Lebanon. The families and friends who never lost hope, and who made sure no one forgot the plight of the hostages, have had their prayers answered.One can hope that the ordeal of Lebanon itself is drawing to a close too. Many of the factions that have kept the country in turmoil have laid down their guns, though their differences remain. Lebanon's ability to rebuild and assert its own identity is far from certain, but the Lebanese people, always industrious, retain a sense of national identity - despite Syria's grip on its small neighbor. They'd like to put the term "Lebanonization a synonym for violent national disintegration - behind them. The hostage drama was in many ways an exercise in frustration. Its instigators succeeded only in winning the world's scorn. Western governments tried to stick by their vow never to deal with terrorists while maneuvering for the release of the hostage. But they found themselves snared by the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics and their own tangled priorities - as the Iran-contra affair showed. In the end, negotiations with the hostage-takers proved unavoidable. But it was the United Nations, through the efforts of special negotiator Giandomenico Picco, that handled the behind-the-scenes work. Passions in Iran and elsewhere cooled enough to allow usually warring Middle East nations to play a constructive role in freeing hostages. But the most memorable legacy of the long hostage saga is likely to be its portrait of human resilience. Many captives endured long days of solitude and deprivation. When they were allowed to live together, their ability to shore up each other's spirits was remarkable. The last-released and longest held, Beirut Associated Press bureau chief Terry Anderson, was a fountain of resourcefulness and support for his fellow hostages. Those who snatched innocent people to dramatize a cause ended up revealing the desperate hollowness of their politics. The hostages themselves revealed the power of faith and determination. The release of the region's remaining hostages, on all sides, should now follow.

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