Issam Salem, Arafat’s Representative, Gravely Wounded
SIDON, Lebanon (AP) _ Issam Salem, the PLO’s senior official in Lebanon, was shot and seriously wounded today in an ambush in this southern port city, police said.
PLO officials in Paris with Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat initially said Salem was killed in the attack. But late in the day, Arafat told reporters he understood Salem was in a coma in intensive care.
″We must not let ourselves be terrorized by this incident,″ Arafat said.
In Sidon, 25 miles south of Beirut, police said Salem was driving along Fakhreddin Street when masked gunmen raked his car with gunfire at 1:05 p.m.
″Salem is wounded in the head. His chances of survival are very slim,″ said a police spokesman who cannot be identified under standing rules.
Salem was rushed to Hammoud Hospital and was undergoing surgery, the spokesman said, adding police had no clue to the identity or motive of the gunmen.
On Saturday, Zeid Wehbi, the official spokesman in Lebanon for Arafat’s Fatah guerrilla faction, escaped assassination when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at his Sidon home. Two passers-by were wounded by shrapnel in the attack, but Wehbi was not home at the time, police said.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack today or the attack on Wehbi.
In the French capital, where Arafat met with President Francois Mitterrand of France, a PLO official said the PLO chairman had been told of the attack on Salem, his personal representative in Lebanon.
″Mr. Arafat knows. We informed him,″ said Alassan Riyad.
Mustafa Saad, head of the Sunni Moslem militia that has ruled Sidon since the outbreak of Lebanon’s 14-year-old civil war in 1975, said he had been told Salem’s condition was ″very critical.″
″He is in a very critical condition at the intensive care unit of the Hammoud Hospital,″ Saad said by telephone.
A senior PLO official, without making specific accusations of responsibility, said the two attacks were evidently part of an organized plot.
″The rapid succession of the two attempts indicates an organized intelligence apparatus was out to eliminate Arafat’s men,″ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Sidon, Lebanon’s third-largest city, is the base of an estimated 5,000 PLO guerrillas who have filtered back to Lebanon after the 1982 evacuation of the PLO following the Israeli invasion.
Salem is married to Jihad Salameh, a sister of the late Hassan Salameh, the chief of Arafat’s personal security apparatus who was assassinated by a remote-controlled bomb in Beirut in 1979.