BEIRUT, Lebanon -- U.S. hostage Jesse Turner was freed Monday by the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine after nearly five years' captivity.
Turner, 44, was released hours after Israel freed 14 Arabs held in southern Lebanon and a 15th from an Israeli jail amid growing evidence that the United Nations' efforts to end the 9-year-old stalemate are proving successful. Seven Western hostages were still being held in Lebanon.
A United Nations spokesman in New York confirmed earlier reports from Beirut that Turner had been freed and was 'on his way to Damascus.' The spokesman said Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar had been informed of the released and welcomed the information.
State Department officials in Washington said they expected Turner to arrive in Damascus by Tuesday but were unsure about the precise time. While they were certain of his release, however, the officials were unable to explain why Turner had not yet arrived in Damascus, a three- hour drive from Beirut.
Separately, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States sent a medical team to an army post in Wiesbadan, Germany, where freed detainees customarily receive interim care.
Turner, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Beirut University College, was kidnapped Jan. 24, 1987.
His release came despite a warning by a separate group, Islamic Jihad, which holds U.S. hostages Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, that Israel's repeated attacks in southern Lebanon could hamper U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar's efforts to resolve hostage standoff.
Security sources in Hasbaya, Lebanon, said the Arab prisoners, wearing blue jogging suits, were taken in civilian cars from the Khiyam prison inside Israel's self-declared 'security zone' to the headquarters of the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army militia near the village of Marjeyoun, 37 miles south of Beirut.
They were handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the sources said, adding that the remaining five detainees were expected to be handed over to the ICRC later.
An ICRC team accompanied the freed women and the seven male prisoners who were released to the passageway of Beit Yahoun, along the edge of the 'security zone,' en route home.
Israel also released Ali Abbas Fawaz, a Lebanese detained inside Israel and surrendered him to the head of the ICRC in Lebanon, Christophe Harnish, at the border village of Ras Naqoura, the sources said. Fawaz's release brought to 15 the number of Arabs freed by Israel on Monday.
Israeli officials said Fawaz was 'freed after he finished serving his sentence.'
At the same time, Israeli warplanes raided a main Hezbollah stronghold in the southern Lebanon village of Jibsheet, 37 miles south of Beirut, in apparent retaliation for a bomb attack on an Israeli patrol. Two people were wounded in the raid, army and Muslim fundamentalist sources said.
In Beirut, Islamic Jihad issued a statement to the authoritative newspaper An-Nahar saying, in part, 'The Israeli enemy is obstructing efforts of the international legitimacy by launching these aggressions.' The statement was accompanied by a photograph showing Anderson clean- shaven and wearing a checkered T-shirt.
The release of the Arabs coincided with a visit Monday to Beirut by a senior State Department official identified as Mike Verga who, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, met with State Minister and Shiite leader Nabih Berri at Berri's home in Beirut.
Sources close to Berri affirmed that part of Verga's mission was aimed at discussing efforts to resolve the hostage ordeal.'
For his part, Crocker said, 'We are hopeful about an immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.'
The freeing of the Arab prisoners and the subsequent release of Turner came few hours after the United Nations and the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine announced that either Turner or American Alann Steen, who was kidnapped with Turner, would be released imminently.
It was the first time the world body has issued such an announcement on the timing of a hostage's freedom.
Along with its separate announcement, the Islamic Jihad the Liberation of Palestine released a photo showing a bearded and haggard Turner.
Other U.S. hostages still being held by other groups are Anderson, Sutherland and Joseph Cicippio. Also being held captive are Briton Terry Waite and two Germans, Thomas Kemptner and Heinrich Struebig.
Turner and his Lebanese-born wife, Badr, have a 4-year-old daughter, Joanne, who was born six months after her father was kidnapped. He was one of four people abducted by three men posing as security guards.
Captured along with Turner were U.S. nationals Robert Polhill and Steen, as well as Milthileshwar Singh of India. Polhill was released in 1990 and Singh was released in 1988. Steen remained in the kidnappers' custody.
Forty-eight Westerners -- journalists, businessmen and professors -- have been kidnapped in Lebanon since 1982. They include 20 Americans, 12 French citizens, seven Britons, five Germans, one South Korean, two Swedes and an Italian.
Of the Americans kidnapped, 13 have been freed, three have died in captivity and four remain hostage. Of the French, 11 have been freed and one died in captivity. Of the Britons, three have been freed, three died and one is being held. Of the Germans, three have been freed and two are still held. The South Korean and both Swedes have been released. The Italian is believed to have been killed shortly after his abduction.
Turner, 44, of Cedar Rapids Iowa, a professor of Mathematics at Beirut University College, was kidnapped Jan. 24, 1987. He was released hours after Israel freed 14 Arabs held in southern Lebanon and a 15th from an Israeli jail.
The Muslim fundamentlist source would refused to elaborate on Turner's release.NEWLN: more
Turner's freedom came despite a warning by the group Islamic Jihad, which holds U.S. hostages Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, that Israel's repeated attacks on Arab positions in southern Lebanon could hamper the U.N. efforts to resolve the 9-year-old stalemate.
Security sources in Hasbaya, Lebanon, said Arab prisoners, wearing blue jogging suits, were transferred in civilian cars from the Khiyam prison inside Israel's self-declared security zone to the headquarters of the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army militia near the village of Marjeyoun, 37 miles south of Beirut.NEWLN: pickup 4th graf: nine prisoners