Aoun Aide Escapes Assassination; Shiite Militias Continue Fighting
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Attackers shot up the home of an aide to rebellious Christian commander Michel Aoun before dawn Wednesday and at least five people were reported killed, but the apparent target was not injured.
In south Lebanon, rival Shiite Moslem militias battled in the orchards of Iqlin al-Tuffah - the Apple Province - for supremacy in the predominantly Shiite region.
Lt. Col. Adel Sassin escaped unhurt as his guards battled the attackers in the mountain town of Beit Meri, in the Christian enclave eight miles east of Beirut, police reported.
It was the first such assault on a ranking aide to Aoun since the general rebelled in November against the Syrian-backed government of President Elias Hrawi, a fellow Christian.
Four of those killed were soldiers guarding the Sassin residence, said a statement from Aoun’s command. It identified the fifth person slain as Saliba Youssef, a Christian civilian whose body was found in a pine forest near the house.
Police said they believed Youssef was one of the attackers, but a television station run by Aoun said he might have been an innocent witness killed by the attackers as they fled.
There was no claim of responsibility. Aoun’s command blamed the assault on infiltrators trying to ″create confusion″ in the 310-square-mile enclave north and east of Beirut where 1 million Christians live.
Police said six people were killed and 18 wounded in the south Lebanon fighting between Hezbollah, which is loyal to Iran, and the mainstream Amal militia supported by Syria. They said about 10,000 villagers fled the Iqlin al-Tuffah region southeast of Sidon.
Amal’s military commander for the region was found dead Wednesday, but relatives said Hassan Jaafar, 40, was not killed in combat. They said his throat had been cut.
Seventy people have been reported killed and 252 wounded since the fighting began Dec. 23.
A Hezbollah statement said its units in the region 30 miles south of Beirut were ordered to stop shooting Wednesday, but it did not specify an hour. The statement said Hezbollah’s leadership decideded on a unilateral cease-fire to ″spare the blood of our people and set the stage for a dialogue.″
Amal would not comment on the announcement and police in Sidon said there was no break in the fighting.
Nabih Berri, leader of Amal, said earlier his men would observe a truce only when Hezbollah withdrew from four strategic villages its fighters had captured. Police said Hezbollah still held two of the villages.
The militia struggle for dominance among the 1.2 million Shiites, the largest sect in Lebanon, has continued intermittently for two years. Police say 641 people have been killed and 1,831 wounded.
Hrawi has dismissed Aoun as army commander, but the Christian general still has the loyalty of about 20,000 Christian troops who control the Christian enclave.
Aoun’s forces fought a six-month artillery war last year with Syrian troops and their Moslem allies, which ended in September when the Arab League arranged a cease-fire.
Syria has 40,000 soldiers in Lebanon under an Arab League peacekeeping mandate granted in 1976, the year after Lebanon’s sectarian civil war began. Aoun calls the Syrians an occupation army and declared a ″war of liberation″ to drive them out.