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Gunfire In Beirut, Leaders Meet Damascus

September 21, 1988

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ President Amin Gemayel of Lebanon met with President Hafez Assad of Syria today in an effort to avert a political crisis that threatens to plunge Lebanon into renewed civil war.

Gemayel’s unannounced visit came on the eve of a scheduled session by Lebanon’s parliament to elect his successor. Other top Lebanese leaders also came to Damascus for the talks.

As Gemayel entered closed-door talks with Assad to end the political deadlock over the election, Lebanese police reported that gunfire erupted around the entrance to the parliament building in Moslem west Beirut.

A police spokesman, who cannot be named under standing regulations, said Christian snipers opened fire from positions on the city’s dividing Green Line.

Soldiers of the army’s predominantly Shiite Moslem 6th Brigade, guarding the entrance, dived for cover inside the building. There was no immediate word of any casualties.

Gemayel, whose 6-year term expires Friday, flew to Damascus in a military helicopter and was met at the airport by Assad.

In Beirut, Telecommunications Minister Joseph Hashem said Gemayel, accompanied by former Foreign Minister Elie Salem, went to Damascus after a telephone conversation with Assad.

Syrian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lebanon’s acting prime minister, Salim Hoss, and Parliament Speaker Hussein Husseini arrived in Damascus later and met with Syria’s vice president, Abdul-Halim Khaddam.

The Lebanese Forces, Lebanon’s main Christian militia, today declared support for veteran politician Raymond Edde in the presidential race to challenge two Syrian-backed candidates, former President Suleiman Franjieh and parliament deputy Mikhail Daher.

Lebanese sources said Franjieh was likely to withdraw his candidacy in favor of Daher.

The Lebanese Forces and other Christian groups oppose Franjieh and Daher, who are both pro-Syrian Maronite Catholics.

Edde, who is also Maronite, is an outspoken critic of foreign intervention in Lebanon. He has vowed he will seek to force the Israelis out of south Lebanon within 20 days if he is elected.

The Lebanese Forces militia, sympathetic to Israel, opposes Syrian intervention in Lebanon. The Syrians have 40,000 troops in eastern and northern provinces as well as in west Beirut.

The Christians have charged that Daher made ″written commitments″ to Damascus, giving the Syrians military privileges in Lebanon and pledging to give majority Moslems a bigger share in running the country.

The Christians also have charged that Franjieh will transform Lebanon into a ″Syrian satellite.″

The Christians have wielded political power since independence from France in 1943, when they were considered to be the majority. Moslems now comprise an estimated 55 percent of Lebanon’s 4 million population.

Under an unwritten national covenant dating from independence, the Lebanese president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Moslem and the parliament speaker a Shiite.

Christians and Moslems have been fighting a civil war in Lebanon for 13 years. The war has ravaged the economy and split the once prosperous nation into numerous fiefdoms controlled by guerrilla bands.

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