PLO is Wild Card in Hrawi’s Peace Drive With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
TYRE, Lebanon (AP) _ The PLO says it won’t block President Elias Hrawi’s efforts to end 15 years of civil war, but its thousands of guerrillas in south Lebanon are a wild card that Saddam Hussein could play.
The Iraqi president might try to use the PLO to thwart the plans of Syria, his archrival and Hrawi’s main backer.
Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which has supported Saddam, has at least 5,000 hardcore guerrillas and thousands more reservists around the southern port of Sidon, an area that neither Syria nor the Lebanese government controls.
Not only is the PLO strong, but the Shiite Moslem Amal and Hezbollah factions are also regrouping there along with pro-Syrian guerrilla groups. The Israelis occupy a border strip and show no sign of leaving.
Hrawi, aided by Syria’s military muscle, has persuaded Lebanon’s main militias to withdraw from Beirut in the first phase of a peace plan to demilitarize the capital and, on paper at least, eventually the whole country.
The plan, ratified by Parliament last fall, made no specific reference to the Palestinians. But Hrawi has said they would have to disarm as well.
″The Palestinians’ weapons will be removed and the Palestinian refugees ... will be placed under the protection of the government and legal authorities,″ he said.
″We’re prepared to help the government spread its authority over the whole of Lebanon, including our refugee camps. Let them talk to us, and an agreement on this can be worked out,″ Saadallah Qott, the PLO’s political chief in south Lebanon, told The Associated Press.
Col. Anwar Mady, the PLO commander in the Sidon region, said: ″Let President Hrawi talk to his counterpart, the President of Palestine (Arafat), about what he wants from the Palestinian forces in Lebanon and I’m sure whatever the Lebanese government wants from us can be worked out.″
Qott, interviewed at his office in the el-Bus refugee camp near Tyre, said: ″Arab League resolutions state that Palestinians should have a regular brigade of the Palestine Liberation Army in each Arab country that hosts them.″
″Our forces in Lebanon can make up a regular PLA brigade, and we’re prepared to place it at the disposal of the Lebanese under the direct command of the army,″ he said.
But the offer is clouded by many questions.
Arafat is not in a strong bargaining position right now. He’s already being squeezed by Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who have allied against Saddam over his Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. The last thing Arafat needs now is pressure on him in south Lebanon.
But security sources say that Syria, which has been at odds with the PLO since 1983, will not allow Hrawi to cut a deal with the Palestinians that would give the PLO any legitimacy in Lebanon.
That leaves Hrawi in an awkward position. He does not have the military strength himself to reestablish government control in the south. With its 40,000 troops in Lebanon, Syria is the main powerbroker, but it is wary of provoking the Israelis by doing Hrawi’s work for him.
Charles Snow, a veteran regional analyst, wrote in the Middle East Economic Survey this week that getting the militias out of Beirut ″is likely to be child’s play compared to disarming them, and even if the militias are somehow persuaded or coerced into handing over their weapons, still larger obstacles loom on the horizon.
″One of them is the status of the Palestinians in south Lebanon and their relations with the government.″
South Lebanon was once virtually run by the Palestinians, who used it as a base for attacks on Israel. The Palestinians’ creation of a state-within-a- state and the threat it posed to the Christian-dominated government was a key factor behind the outbreak of civil war in 1975.
The Christians cooperated with the Israelis when they invaded Lebanon in 1982 and drove the PLO out of the south and Beirut.
But when the Christians allied themselves with Iraq in 1988, they helped Arafat’s guerrillas infiltrate back into Lebanon because the PLO fighters opposed the Syrians.
Hrawi’s long-term aim is the removal of foreign forces in Lebanon, including the Palestinians.
But the Syrians have made it clear they will not withdraw until Israel pulls out of the zone in south Lebanon it has occupied since mid-1985, when most of its invasion army withdrew.