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Groups slam Presbyterian-Hezbollah talks

NEW YORK -- Two national Jewish organizations sharply criticized a Presbyterian Church delegation yesterday for meeting in Lebanon with leaders of the terrorist group Hezbollah.

The American Jewish Committee said the Presbyterians had ''lent legitimacy to what American government officials call the 'A-Team' of global terrorists" and delivered ''a blow to peace efforts in the region." It called on the Presbyterian Church ''to repudiate immediately" the actions.

The Anti-Defamation League director, Abraham Foxman, said he found it ''irresponsible" and ''deeply disturbing" that Presbyterian leaders would seek to meet ''members of a terrorist organization that is directly responsible for attacks against both Americans and Israelis and that has repeatedly denounced America and Israel as enemies of Islam."

Foxman also objected that the Rev. Ronald Stone, a retired professor of social ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was quoted on Hezbollah's satellite TV network as saying ''relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders," and that ''we treasure the precious words of Hezbollah and your expression of good will towards the American people."

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the chief executive at church headquarters in Louisville, Ky., said the Hezbollah visit and comments from delegation members ''do not reflect the official position of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on peace in the Middle East," and that they should not be interpreted as lessening its ''commitment to continued Jewish-Christian dialogue, Muslim-Christian dialogue, or Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue."

The traveling delegation represents the church's Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, which is charged with developing national policy resolutions on the Mideast and other issues for the denomination. A Presbyterian spokesman said the two-week fact-finding trip, paid for by the church, includes meetings with government officials, church leaders, and humanitarian groups in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. The delegation is due back in the United States Oct. 29.

Jewish leaders held talks in New York last month with Presbyterian officials over the divestment policy but reached no accord.

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