Shiite War Rages in South Lebanon, Amal Rejects Iranian Mediation
KFAR FILLA, Lebanon (AP) _ Syrian-backed Shiite militiamen buried their dead Tuesday but vowed a fight to the finish against Iranian-backed rivals, rejecting moves from Damascus and Tehran to halt three days of savage battle.
Police said seven people were killed and 20 wounded in Tuesday’s fighting, bringing the total to 87 dead and 220 injured since Sunday.
Militiamen of the mainstream Amal used Syrian-provided tanks, howitzers and rocket launchers to bombard a mountain enclave where they have trapped rival Hezbollah militiamen, but they failed to dislodge the fundamentalists from their strategic perch.
A police spokesman said the Hezbollahis have ″shaken off repeated assaults″ on Jbaa, 10 miles southeast of the provincial capital, Sidon.
The village is the key to a triangular stronghold where 500 pro-Iranian fighters are under siege just northwest of Israel’s self-proclaimed security zone.
The police spokesman, who cannot be named under standing rules, said about 1,000 Amal fighters were attacking in a pincer movement.
In Damascus, the Syrian capital, President Hafez Assed met Iran’s first deputy foreign minister, Ali Mohammed Besharati, to discuss the situation, Syria’s official news agency reported without elaboration.
Shiite sources said Besharati is expected in Beirut to mediate between the warring factions.
However, one Amal commander vowed there will be no cease-fire.
″There is no room for negotiations with the Iranian delegates. There is no room for any truce. Our decision is to finish off Hezbollah in the south,″ said area commander Atef Aoun.
Nearly 500 people have been killed and 1,500 wounded since the rival militias first clashed in April in an ongoing battle to dominate the 1 million Shiites who are the biggest sect among Lebanon’s 4 million people.
Amal on Monday recaptured a chain of hilltop villages in Iklim el-Tiffah, or Apple Province, which Hezbollah had seized Sunday. Police said both groups have committed ″horrific atrocities.″
Aoun spoke in Kfar Filla village, 1.2 miles west of Jbaa, during a funeral procession for five militiamen.
Women ululated in grief, waving photographs of the deceased and chanting anti-Iranian slogans.
″Death to Khomeini, Death to the Party of Satan,″ they wailed as male mourners, several in fatigues and toting automatic rifles, yelled the Islamic war cry ″Allahu Akbar 3/8″ or ″God is great 3/8″
The police spokesman said Hezbollah fighters now were sandwiched in a narrow nine-square-mile strip between advancing Amal forces and the western flank of the Israeli security zone.
They also are entrenched in two nearby hamlets and some pine woods.
Sheik Kamel Wehbeh, Jbaa’s imam, or preacher, told the reporters the region’s predominantly Shiite population ″does not want Hezbollah, which commits massacres, kills prisoners and destroys villages.″
Wehbeh, who suffered shrapnel wounds in the neck, left arm and left leg during a tour of the region Monday, spoke from his bed in Sidon’s Hammoud hospital.
The police spokesman said about 15,000 predominantly Shiite civilians have fled their villages and sought refuge in Amal-controlled regions of south Lebanon.
He said Hezbollah gunmen ″stabbed to death several civilians and Amal militiamen ... Some of the victims were found with their throats cut and others with their heads chopped off.″
Hezbollah wants to create an Islamic republic in Lebanon fashioned after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iran. The more secular Amal rejects Iran’s influence.
Amal drove Hezbollah out of most of south Lebanon in a four-day crackdown in April. Less than a month later, Hezbollah retaliated and drove Amal out of south Beirut slums in a three-week confrontation.
Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, sent in its army to quell the fighting. But violence erupted again in November and spilled over into west Beirut.