Christian Factions Battle in Beirut; Israelis Raid Sidon
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Rival Christian factions battled Sunday in Beirut in what sources said was a struggle for control of the nation’s largest Christian militia. In southern Lebanon, Israeli warplanes raided Palestinian targets near Sidon.
There were no immediate casualty figures from the Beirut fighting. Police said at least five people were wounded in the Israeli raid on the Ein el- Hilweh and Mieh Mieh Palestinian refugee camps outside the port city of Sidon.
Guerrillas fired anti-aircraft guns at the divebombing Israeli jets and rocket-firing helicopter gunships.
Ambulances with wailing sirens rushed in and out of the camps on the southern outskirts of Sidon, a provincial capital 25 miles south of Beirut.
In Tel Aviv, Israel’s military command said its jets and helicopters struck offices and bases near Sidon used by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mainstream Fatah faction and its Syrian-backed Abu Mousa faction.
It said all aircraft returned safely to base after scoring accurate hits.
The air raid was Israel’s sixth in Lebanon this year.
In Beirut, the leadership of the Christian Phalange Party called for an immediate cease-fire to allow mediation between the fighting Christian factions, the party’s Voice of Lebanon radio station reported.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said rebels were trying to unseat Lebanese Forces Commander Samir Geagea. They said Geagea fled to his northern stronghold of Byblos as the rebels fought for control of Christian east Beirut.
Byblos, about 20 miles north of Beirut, is Geagea’s power base, where he maintains a massive barracks and most of the militia’s heavy armaments.
The sources said the rebels were lead by Maroun Mashalani, a district commander for the Lebanese Forces in east Beirut’s Furn el-Shubbak and Badaro neighborhoods.
Little is know about Mashalani’s political leanings. The sources described his position as midway between Geagea’s militant anti-Syrian stance and the pro-Syrian stance of Elie Hobeika, whom Geagea ousted as Lebanese Forces commander last January.
Mashalani’s fighters overran east Beirut’s sprawling Asrafieh residential district and appeared poised for an assault on the Lebanese Forces’ waterfront war council headquarters, said the sources. They said Mashalani planned to seize the sprawling compound and announce the removal of Geagea and his 10- member executive committee.
No casualty figures were immediately available.
Police said the east Beirut fighting broke out when Geagea’s forces raided suspected hideouts of Hobeika’s supporters before dawn and rounded up 30 people.
Geagea’s executive committee has blamed Hobeika’s men for a rash of bombings in the capital’s eastern side. Those attacks and bombings in west Beirut, the Moslem sector, have killed 77 people and injured nearly 400 in the past two weeks.
Police said Hobeika’s supporters put up a stiff resistence against Geagea’s raiders. The sources said the resistence of Hobeika’s men prompted Mashalani to move in against Geagea.
Gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade blasts echoed through the Christian sector as the fighting raged without letup past midday.
″The entire population stayed indoors. Except for the fighters not a single soul is out on the streets,″ said one source.
East Beirut residents, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Lebanese Forces closed all major highways in the Christian heartland north and northeast of Beirut with earth mounds and barbed-wire barricades.
As Lebanese Forces commander, Hobeika signed a Syria-sponsored peace pact with Shiite Moslem and Druse warlords on Dec. 28. Geagea, then Hobeika’s chief of staff, and Christian President Amin Gemayel rejected the accord as making too many concessions to the Moslems.
In January, Geagea and Gemayel teamed up to oust Hobeika in battles in which 350 people were killed.