LONDON -- Two of the longest-held hostages in Lebanon were freed yesterday from chained captivity and said they expected the last three U.S. hostages to be released soon.
Terry Waite, Britain's last and most prominent hostage in Lebanon, was freed from captivity after 1,763 days in the hands of Islamic Jihad.
Church bells throughout England were rung to celebrate his release.
Emerging with Mr. Waite from an even longer night of confinement -- 2,353 days -- was a Scottish-born U.S. citizen, Thomas Sutherland.
Both men made the trip overland from Beirut yesterday afternoon and were presented at the Syrian Foreign Ministry in Damascus last night.
Mr. Waite appeared briefly on television and said he was told by one of his captors that the last three Americans still being held would be released -- Alann Steen and Joseph James Cicippio within five days, and Terry Anderson by the end of the month.
Mr. Sutherland said they had left Mr. Anderson only three or four hours previously. "He is no longer chained to the wall, but he is still in a room with little fresh air and very little daylight."
The released hostages said one of their captors told them: "We recognize that now this was a wrong thing to do, that holding hostages achieves no useful, constructive purpose."
Mr. Waite said he and Mr. Sutherland had been chained until yesterday morning, when they were released about noon. They had spent the years of their captivity, he said, "chained to the wall as we've been chained to the wall for about five years and in vTC some cases . . . seven years, 23 hours and 50 minutes a day."
Both he and Mr. Sutherland thanked the Syrian government for its assistance in bringing about their release. Mr. Sutherland, who seemed slightly less weary than Mr. Waite, also thanked the Iranian government for its intervention.
Afterwards Mr. Waite was flown to the British base at Akrotiri, Cyprus. He will return home today.
Mr. Sutherland arrived early this morning in Frankfurt, Germany, and was to be taken to the Air Force hospital in nearby Wiesbaden for a complete medical checkup and a debriefing by a State Department team, the Associated Press reported.
It was the first time two hostages were released simultaneously. That, and comments made by the United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in New York, reinforced the growing hopes that the process begun in August under the auspices of the United Nations would bring an end to this particular aspect of Lebanon's long tragedy, a period of less than a decade during which over 100 foreigners have been kidnapped in that country.
Mr. Perez de Cuellar said that he had been promised the release of all hostages by Christmas. "That is what I have been offered by the groups, as well as by the Iranian government," he said.
Mr. Sutherland, 60, the former dean of agriculture at the American University in Beirut, was the second- longest held hostage. Only Mr. Anderson, the Associated Press correspondent, has been held longer.
Mr. Sutherland was abducted by Islamic Jihad June 9, 1985.
Mr. Waite, 52, was snatched Jan. 20, 1987, while in West Beirut on a mission to press for the release of several other hostages, including Mr. Sutherland. The huge man with a beard and wavy hair was working on behalf of the then-archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.
After being taken, no word of Mr. Waite was heard for over three years. In some quarters, he was presumed dead. Then Brian Keenan, an Irish hostage, emerged from the Beirut underground in August 1990 and revealed that the Church of England envoy was alive.
Mr. Keenan said he had been held in a cell next to Mr. Waite and had heard him coughing in the night.
Other hostages, the English television journalist John McCarthy in particular, returned from their prisons with further testimony that Mr. Waite was alive and that the conditions in which he was being held had been improved.
Lord Runcie, the man who sent Mr. Waite to Lebanon, yesterday declared that he felt "an enormous sense of relief."
A spokesman at the office of the current archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said on hearing of Mr. Waite's release: "That's brilliant. It's been such a long time that we're almost afraid to believe it."
Word of the freeing of Mr. Waite flashed through London like electricity. Immediately following the message from Islamic Jihad, delivered to Reuters in Beirut, the Royal Air Force 'N dispatched a VC10 with a medical team to the region to bring Mr. Waite home. His brother, David, was on the plane.
Facilities were readied at Lyneham Air Base in Wiltshire, where hostages are routinely examined.
Thousands were expected to welcome the lay adviser to high churchmen when he arrives today.
Before being seized, Mr. Waite had made an impressive reputation as an advocate and negotiator on behalf of prisoners in the Middle East. He brought three British captives out of Iran in 1981, four more out of Libya in 1983, and three Americans -- Benjamin Weir, Lawrence Martin Jenco and David Jacobson -- out of Lebanon in 1985 and 1986.
Then one night -- against the advice of journalists and his own government -- he went alone down one dark street too many and became a prisoner himself.
The note from the pro-Iranian group that had taken both Mr. Waite and Mr. Sutherland said: "To complete what we have started with the Secretary-General of the United Nations Perez de Cuellar, we announce today the release of 1) Terry Waite 2) Thomas Sutherland."
The Islamic Jihad also left a picture of Mr. Anderson at the agency.
Since the United Nations began its efforts in August to gain freedom for Western hostages in exchange for Arab prisoners held by Israel, six captives have been set free
Israel has released 66 of the more than 300 Arab prisoners it is holding and has received in return the body of one soldier and confirmation of the deaths of two others. Now attention is likely to focus on Israel, which holds a prominent Islamic cleric, Sheik Abdel Kareem Obeid.