Ex-hostage Terry Waite in Beirut, Will Also Visit J'lem, Gaza

Reuters
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BEIRUT - Terry Waite, back in Lebanon for the first time since he was freed from years of captivity at the hands of Islamic militants, says he would gladly meet his erstwhile kidnappers.

"I wouldn't mind meeting with them at all," the former Church of England envoy said on arrival at Beirut airport. "I'm sure that they have changed, that they have grown and developed, just as much as I have."

Waite, who had helped free Western hostages held by extremists in Libya, Iran and Lebanon, came to Lebanon in 1987 to negotiate more releases.

Accused of being a spy, Waite was himself taken hostage by Islamic Jihad, a group at the core of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim underground movement of the 1980s, that was behind bomb attacks on the U.S. Marines barracks and embassy that killed hundreds.

Waite spent four years in captivity in solitary confinement, was chained to a wall and often left in darkness.

Twelve years after his 1991 release, he is back on another humanitarian mission, this time for Y Care, an overseas arm of the YMCA, which he helped to establish. Waite said he was not scared to return to a land that holds bitter memories.

"I came back in good faith on behalf of people who were in difficulties, it so happens that I was taken hostage and I spent five years here," Waite told reporters.

"They were years of suffering but one always has to remember this: the suffering of the people of Lebanon went on for longer than five years. I only had five years...my suffering doesn't compare much to what other people have gone through."

Waite had always said he was aware of the risks involved when he returned in response to an unexpected summons from Islamic Jihad, who were holding Americans Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, at a time when kidnappings were rife.

"We take our responsibility for our own actions," he said.

In Lebanon until Thursday, Waite plans to visit Palestinian refugee camps where his group helps disadvantaged youngsters.

He then plans to visit Jerusalem and Gaza, where Y Care funds projects for young Palestinians affected by the conflict.

"I'm very glad to see now...that Lebanon is getting itself together, it is regaining its dignity as a proud nation and is back on its feet," Waite said. "That's very encouraging. What you have to do in life...is not look back at all the grievances but look forward to what is ahead."