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Syrian, Christian Forces Pound Each Other With Artillery

March 28, 1989

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Beirut’s last functioning power plant took a direct hit by an artillery salvo Tuesday, plunging the city into darkness lit only by red flares and flashes from exploding shells.

It was the sixth straight night of bombardments between Lebanese Christian and Syrian army gunners.

Police said the fighting from midnight Monday to nightfall Tuesday killed at least seven civilians and wounded 22. That raised the overall death toll to 121 and the wounded to 372 since the battle began March 8.

Police reported artillery shells struck an auxiliary power plant that had been providing Beirut with enough electricity for four hours per day after the main power station was blown out of commission two days ago. Both plants are in the suburb of Jamhour in Christian east Beirut.

″Beirut is now in total darkness indefinitely. There will be no electricity until security conditions permit the repair of the two plants,″ a police statement said.

Beirut’s power supplies wavered during previous fighting, but the city has not been completely without electricity since fierce civil war battles between Lebanese Christians and Moslems in 1976. The plants remained unrepaired for seven months that year.

The Arab League’s Council of Ministers called for an immediate end to the fighting and urged support of the league’s peace efforts. The Israeli government pledged not to interfere with the fighting.

A spokesman for Gen. Michel Aoun’s command said 15 Syrian troopers were killed in an abortive attack on Aoun’s Christian army units entrenched in the strategic hilltop resort of Souk el-Gharb, 10 miles southeast of Beirut.

The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Syrians also lost two Soviet-designed T-54 tanks and a truck-mounted battery of multi- barreled rocket launchers.

The Syrian army command in Moslem west Beirut withheld comment on the report, and a Lebanese police spokesman said the department was ″traditionally not informed on the Syrian army’s activities.″

Beirut was like a ghost city Tuesday with rubble littering deserted streets.

″A shell pierced the roof and slammed into our neighbors’ vacant apartment. It demolished a room and the balcony that fell on us in the ground floor,″ said Geraier Kafranbashian, a grocer in west Beirut’s Zokak Blatt district.

″By sheer luck we are still alive. My wife, I and two children can’t hear you properly, the noise of the deafening blast is still in our ears,″ Kafranbashian said.

The American University of Beirut and the U.S.-affiliated Beirut University College, both based in the city’s western sector, said they were suspending classes until further notice.

The current confrontation broke out March 8, shortly after Aoun ordered a blockade of militia-run ports. The ports were draining an estimated $100 million a year from five government harbors along Lebanon’s 130-mile Mediterranean coast.

The latest rift between Moslems and Christians started Sept. 22, when the six-year term of President Amin Gemayel expired with parliament failing to elect a successor.

Minutes before leaving the presidential palace, Gemayel named Aoun head of an interm military Cabinet to rule pending the election of a new head of state.

Syrian-backed Moslems rejected Aoun’s appointment because it violated a 45- year-old unwritten national covenant that gives the premiership to the Sunni Moslems, the house speaker’s post to the Shiite Moslems and the presidency to the Maronites. Salim Hoss heads the rival Moslem Cabinet.

An Arab League mediation committee called for a cease-fire in the confrontation. The league’s Council of Ministers, after the first session of their spring meeting, called for a halt ″without delay to the fighting in Lebanon.″

Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Monday that Israel won’t interfere as Syria does not move either its troops or weaponry too close to Israel’s border.

Update hourly