Former hostage Terry Waite returns to Lebanon to meet Hezbollah, the organisation believed to be responsible for kidnapping and torturing him when he was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy.
The 73-year-old flew to Beirut to rest ghosts of the past and try to reconcile with members of the group who captured him. He also wanted to go back to Beirut to see if he could lend assistance to the Christians in the area.
“For many years I’ve been concerned about the plight of the Christian communities in that region,” he said.
“As a result of the conflict in Syria refugees are flooding over the border into Lebanon which is the only stable part of the Middle East at the moment for those communities.”
He told Sarah Smith that meeting Hezbollah was an “interesting experience”, and that he found going back to the actual place where he was kidnapped for five years was very moving.
When he was kidnapped he was kept mainly in solitary confinement, chained to a radiator and subjected to beatings and a mock execution during the first year of captivity.
“My first reason for the visit is to say the past is the past. Let us leave it.” Mr Waite told Ammar Moussawi, a senior figure within Hezbollah who he met last week.
Mr Moussawi, the organisation’s most senior foreign affairs official, denied Hezbollah were responsible for his kidnapping. Hezbollah operated as a resistance group when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.
Almost 100 western hostages were kidnapped by groups angry at foreign involvement of foreigners in Lebanon. American Terry Anderson was chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press when captured and was held for more than six years.
Hezbollah came to prominence outside of Lebanon when it was accused of bombing a US Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 240 soldiers. While the US still regards the Shiite military and political organisation as a terrorist group financed by Iran, it has grown into a political and military force that has a large infrastructure delivering welfare to a Shiite constituency.
In 2008, Hezbollah became part of the government and in 2011 Lebanon’s new leader announced a government dominated by Hezbollah members and their allies.
Mr Waite travelled to Lebanon in 1987 hoping to secure the release of British hostage John McCarthy and other Western captives. But he was accused of being a CIA agent and taken hospital for five years.
Last week, Mr Waite told Mr Moussawi, the organisation’s most senior foreign affairs official, that in his view Hezbollah was seen “quite wrongly” as a terrorist organisation. Instead, he said Hezbollah was a party of “stature” and that the west’s view of the group is “very negative”.
“Hezbollah has a negative image in the West and there are those who will accuse me on consorting with terrorists,” Mr Waite said in a statement.
“I would remind such accusers that Hezbollah has grown into a fully-fledged political party with seats in Lebanon’s parliament and is now in a unique position to work for peace in the region.
“I met with them quite prepared to put my own sufferings in the past,” he said.
He told Channel 4 News that he asked Hezbollah if they would be particulate considerate to the refugees fleeing across the border, and make some gesture towards assisting them at Christmas. They told him they would.
“After all, the people of Lebanon have suffered far more than I have. The only way forward is by the pathway of forgiveness, which is a difficult and dangerous road,” Mr Waite said.
“It is my view that Hezbollah can do itself a great deal of good at Christmas, the Christian festival, by perhaps doing something to give some support to the refugees who are in this country.
“When it does, the message will carry beyond the border of Lebanon.”
For his part, Mr Moussawi said Mr Waite would be welcome back “any time”.