BEIRUT, Lebanon Wearing a bulletproof vest, Terry Waite, the archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy, left battle-scarred Beirut Sunday en route to talks with U.S. officials on his mission to free American hostages in Lebanon.
Waite flew to Athens, Greece, where he will make an Overnight stopover before flying to New York on Monday.
The Church of England troubleshooter, wearing bulletproof vest under his tan safari shirt, told reporters at Beirut airport he expected “to be back soon.”
He said fierce street fighting in the Lebanese capital between rival militias that trapped him in a hotel for three days, “caused some delay, but we’re moving forward.”
Waite told a Thursday news conference as gunfire resounded in the streets outside his hotel that he had met twice with the kidnappers since Tuesday.
He said: “A good measure of mutual trust has been established and I am able to say that progress is being made. . . While I do not deny the very grave difficulties facing me with
this problem, I do believe it can be resolved.”
The fighting stalled his one-man mission to negotiate the release of American hostages believed held by Shiite Moslem fundamentalists of Islamic Jihad, a shadowy group believed linked to Iran.
Waite was sent to Beirut after four Americans kidnapped in Lebanon appealed by letter to the Rev. Robert Runcie, the archbishop of Canterbury, to work for their release.
The Briton drove to the airport Sunday in a sedan pocked with bullet holes, and was followed by a fast-moving convoy of journalists and television crews as gunfire crackled around the city.
A ceasefire called Saturday night by militia commanders appeared to be holding as the convoy sped past bullet scarred buildings and burned-out cars in streets littered with debris.
As his Mercedes approached the beachfront airport on Beirut’s southern outskirts, Lebanese army soldiers fired in the air to stop a car approaching from another direction. No shots were fired at Waite’s convoy.
Waite joked with newsmen at the airport and called his dash through Beirut’s streets an “invigorating experience.”
He had been trapped in the Commodore Hotel with scores of newsmen for three days while Druse and Shiite Moslem militias fought savage street battles around the seven story building.
Police said 65 people were killed and 278 wounded in the street clashes, but Waite was not hurt.
The American hostages who signed the letter to Rucie are the Rev. Lawrence Jenco, 50, of Joliet, Ill., a Roman Catholic priest; Terry Anderson, 38, of Lorain, Ohio, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press; David Jacobsen, 54, of Huntington Beach, Calif., director of the American University Hospital, and Thomas Sutherland, 54, the Scottish born dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut.
Islamic Jihad, which is demanding the release of 17 people jailed for bombings in Kuwait, has said it killed a fifth American, William Buckley, 57, of Medford, Mass., the U.S. Embassy political officer in Beirut.
There has been no word for months on the whereabouts of a sixth kidnapped American Peter Kilburn, 60, of San Francisco, Calif., the librarian at the American University of Beirut.