Surrounded by Amal militiamen and facing a crush of cameras and reporters, Jimmy Dell Palmer, a refrigerator mechanic from Little Rock, Ark., showed cool Southern composure as he sat next to Shiite Moslem leader Nabih Berri and fielded questions at a news conference here today at the end of his 13-day ordeal as a hostage.
Palmer, who reportedly is suffering from a severe heart ailment, was released by Berri in a day in which the leader of the Shiite militia Amal ignited a flurry of diplomatic activity with an offer to place the remaining 39 American captives in the custody of a western embassy or of Syria.
Prompted by an Amal official among the press, Palmer said before the television cameras, "I would like to say to the president to do what he can as fast as he can to get all the hostages released." But when an Amal official asked him "in what way," apparently seeking a rejection of military means, Palmer responded flatly, "That is not for me to say."
"I'm a typical American citizen who knows very little about the problems in Beirut," Palmer said. "I've learned a lot since I've been here, but I still don't know very much about the problems here, and all I can say is that I hope and pray that some day they get their problems straightened out, because they have many, and it's difficult to understand what the problem is."
Referring to the hijackers, Palmer, 48, said in Larnaca, Cyprus, after leaving Lebanon that "on several occasions they tried to lecture us on their cause, which is understandable. I don't understand their cause."
"Their line of thinking was that anything done in the name of God was okay," Palmer told Reuter.
In Beirut, asked if he had any sympathy for Berri's people or the hijackers, Palmer responded, "For the original hijackers, no. The people -- Mr. Berri's people, I suppose -- yes, I have a lot of sympathy for them. But the original hijackers, no, I do not have any sympathy for them."
Berri smiled broadly. He had complained earlier at the press conference that he is being cast as the "villain" in this crisis when all he is trying to do is keep the hostages alive while winning the release of his people imprisoned in Israel.
Berri began to move to lower the level of tension last night when the hijackers allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit all 40 hostages to check on their welfare and examine those thought to have health problems.
As a result of the Red Cross report to him this morning, Berri said, he consulted with the hijackers, and they decided to release Palmer for humanitarian reasons.
Palmer told reporters that the other hostages were well, and that he had been treated "fine."
"Last night all of the hostages were gathered in a central location in Beirut," Palmer said. "We've met with the International Red Cross. Everyone was talked to; everyone sent a message home. Some of us were examined by the medical doctor," Palmer said.
Berri, faced with reports that Washington is considering a blockade of Lebanon and a forced shutdown of Beirut International Airport, warned that Lebanon "is not Grenada" and gave no indication that he or the hijackers are willing to budge on the central demand that Israel release 735 Lebanese detainees still held in Atlit Prison before the Americans will be freed.
Berri said he also would review the case of Simon Grossmayer, 57, a warehouse manager from Algonquin, Ill., who lost a lung to cancer several years ago.
Meanwhile, one of the three TWA crew members kept on the Boeing 727 at Beirut International Airport, Philip Maresca, the first officer, was taken to a hospital for examination.
He reportedly was suffering from an infection of a week-old insect or spider bite.