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Moslem Militias Battle For Control Of Tripoli

September 24, 1985

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (AP) _ Two Moslem militias, the ″Pink Panthers″ and the black-scarved Tawheed, battled in the streets of Tripoli on Tuesday for control of Lebanon’s second- largest city.

Syrian gunners joined the battle, firing on Tawheed positions in what appeared to be an attempt to force that militia to agree to a cease-fire.

Police reported at least 15 people were killed and 18 wounded in the port city 50 miles north of Beirut. That raised the known casualty toll to at least 196 killed and 565 wounded since the urban warfare broke out Sept. 15.

Tuesday’s gunbattles and salvos of Soviet-made rockets shattered the 14th cease-fire called in an effort to end the fighting.

The rival militias are the Syrian-backed Arab Democratic Party’s Arabian Knights militias, known as the Pink Panthers because they wear pink-tinged combat fatigues, and the fundamentalist Tawheed Islami, or Islamic Unification.

Hundreds of buildings have been wrecked by bombardments and some hit in six hours of heavy shelling Tuesday still smoldered.

Municipal officials estimated that more than half of the city’s’s 500,000 population have fled, turning the heart of Tripoli into a ghost town. The highway south of the city was lined with refugee families living in tents, freight containers and unfinished buildings.

Each side accused the other of violating a Syrian-sponsored truce Monday night with heavy artillery and rocket barrages.

Syrian army gunners in hills southeast of the city fired salvos of Soviet- made Katyusha rockets on Tawheed positions around the harbor.

The barrage apparently was aimed at putting pressure on Tawheed to bow to Syrian demands that both factions abide by a cease-fire and hand over their heavy weapons.

Prime Minister Rashid Karami sought to salvage the truce to save his hometown from further destruction. But militia officers on both sides said as their men battled in the rubble-strewn streets that they would fight to the finish.

The battles are the heaviest bout in an intermittent two-year war between the Arabian Knights, who are Alawite Moslems, and the fundamentalist Tawheed, who are Sunni Moslems.

″Tawheed will have to kill us all if they want to take over Tripoli,″ said an Arabian Knights commander who identified himself only as Abu Ali. Tawheed snipers peppered his positions and one of his men was hit by a sharpshooter.

Abi Ali, his left eye bandaged from a shrapnel wound, said: ″Tawheed shells killed all my family except my daughter, and she lost a hand. I hate them. My men all live here and they’re fighting to stay alive. We have paid the price; now they must do the same.″

At a Tawheed position 400 yards along the front line that slices through the city, a company commander calling himself Abu Jihad declared: ″We will continue to resist. We’re defending our homes and we will die with guns in our hands.″

As Abu Jihad, 30, talked in his command post, the barricaded cellar of a shell-blasted building, his 70 young fighters, one only 13 years old, fired into Arabian Knights’ positions.

Abu Jihad, red-eyed and unshaven after 10 days of combat, said: ″I feel sick to see my city being destroyed. There is no cease-fire.

″There used to be more than 1,000 families in this district. Now there are only about 50. My family won’t leave without me, but I have to stay. They say that if we have to die then we’ll die together.″

The battle for Tripoli is rooted in the conflict between President Hafez Assad of Syria and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.

Tawheed is allied to Arafat’s fighters. The Syrians charge Arafat has been moving men and weapons through Tripoli port to bolster his efforts to move back into Lebanon following his ouster in Israel’s 1982 invasion.

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