BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Army commander Gen. Michel Aoun, head of Lebanon’s Christian Cabinet, fired four colonels today in a shakeup aimed at purging supporters of former President Amin Gemayel.
Aoun, whose appointment as prime minister last Thursday pushed the country closer to formal partition, also reportedly banned helicopter flights to and from the U.S. Embassy in suburban Beirut.
The east Beirut daily newspaper Ad-Diyar said the embassy was told U.S. helicopters may only land or take off from the army base in Adma, six miles north of the embassy compound. The report could not be confirmed immediately.
Police, meanwhile, said three bombs exploded in Syrian-policed Moslem west Beirut on Monday, wounding one civilian and destroying several shops and cars.
There was no claim of responsibility for the blasts, the sixth and seventh bombings in west Beirut since Gemayel named Aoun prime minister.
The military shakeup, apparently aimed at consolidating Aoun’s power within the army, brought his most trusted aides to top military posts. The shakeup preceded the first meeting of Aoun’s Cabinet, which Gemayel appointed before his six-year term ended at midnight Thursday.
Aoun’s government has been rejected by the Moslem majority, which recognizes ony the Cabinet of acting Prime Minister Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem.
Aoun today issued a directive dismissing Col. Simon Kassis, head of the army’s intelligence branch, and appointed Col. Amer Shehab to replace him.
The general also dismissed the commander of the presidential guards, Col. Louis Kassis. He was replaced by Col. Francois Zein. Maj. Fuad Ashkar was appointed head of the army’s security apparatus, replacing Col. George Shahwan.
Col. Mohammed Zaidan, the only Moslem among the four men dismissed today, was fired from his post as head of the army’s strategic planning branch. Aoun did not name his successor.
Maronite Christians have dominated power since Lebanon’s independence from France in 1943, holding the presidency, the army command, the Central Bank governorship and the chairmanship of the Supreme Court.
But under an unwritten covenant, prime ministers have been Sunni Moslems and parliament speakers have been Shiite Moslems.
Aoun, a Christian, took over after Parliament failed repeatedly to muster the needed quorum of 51 deputies to convene and elect a successor to Gemayel.
The Moslem officers named to serve in Aoun’s six-man military Cabinet refused to take up their posts, leaving the general with only two ministers in addition to himself.