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A senior Iranian envoy met Sunday with Syria's foreign minister and discussed efforts to free Western hostages held in Lebanon, an informed source said.

The Syrian source, who refused to be identified further, said the meeting between Mahmoud Hashemi of Iran and Farouk al-Sharaa of Syria ``appears to be to coordinate efforts between the governments of Syria and Iran to gain the release of all the hostages' held by pro-Iranian Shiite Moslem militants in Lebanon.Syria, Iran's main Arab ally, has been instrumental in helping release Western hostages in the past. It has 40,000 troops deployed in much of Lebanon.

The source said Hashemi, brother of Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, delivered ``a very cordial message' to Sharaa from Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, including an invitation for him to visit Tehran to meet Rafsanjani and Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

One source noted: ``This appears to be a serious effort, the first in some time, to end the hostage ordeal ... But I don't think we'll see anyone out tomorrow.

``Nobody can be precise about how long the process will take. There appears to be a genuine desire by the Iranian president to end this ordeal. But there are still difficulties,' the source said.

There are 18 Western hostages in Lebanon. Most of them, including eight Americans, are believed held by Shiite Moslem groups loyal to Iran.

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