Three Boats Blown Up In Sidon, Syrians Shell Christian Enclave
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Three boats that police said smuggled food to the besieged Christian sector were blown up in the port of Sidon today as Syrian gunners pounded the Christian enclave with hundreds of shells and rockets.
Two people were killed and nine wounded as 300 howitzer shells and rockets rained on the region late Wednesday and early today, police said. A sailor was wounded in the Sidon explosions.
The casualties raised the overall toll to 372 killed and 1,450 wounded since the latest outbreak in the 14-year civil war began on March 8.
″The shelling hadn’t been as ferocious for quite a long time,″ said Bahjat Jaber, a reporter in east Beirut.
A police spokesman, who cannot be named in line with standing rules, said Christian leader Michel Aoun’s units did not return the fire.
He said the Syrians shelled the enclave, home to about 1 million people, from batteries in Moslem west Beirut and mountains southeast of the city.
The attacks coincided with an Arab effort to defuse the crisis between Syria and Gen. Aoun’s 20,000-strong force.
Lakhdar Ibrahimi, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, met Wednesday night in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa after talks in Beirut with Aoun and acting Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem who heads a rival Moslem government in Lebanon.
Ibrahimi, an Algerian, was sent to Beirut and Damascus to mediate a settlement in Lebanon within six months.
Police said the three motor boats exploded simultaneously at dawn in Sidon, 25 miles south of Beirut.
The spokesman said the boats had been braving the tight Syrian blockade to smuggle food into the Christian enclave.
Sidon is a mainly Sunni city. The Sunnis and Shiite Moslems have stayed out of the latest confrontation. Only Druse fighters have been actively fighting alongside the Syrians.
The independent daily newspaper An-Nahar said Wednesday that the three- month blockade has failed to starve the Christians. It said 94 vessels have unloaded about 15,017 tons of cargo at the Christian port of Jounieh, 12 miles north of Beirut.
Syria imposed the siege of east Beirut and the Christian region on March 14, six days into the latest round of fighting.
The confrontation was touched off by a blockade Aoun ordered on militia-run ports south of Beirut, which have cost the ailing state treasury $100 million in customs dues annually.
Aoun has agreed to lift his blockade to assist the Arab League’s peace efforts. But the Syrians have maintained their siege and shelling of Christian ports, claiming they want to prevent Iraqi supplies from reaching Aoun by sea.
Iraq is Syria’s main Arab foe. It has openly supported Aoun’s pledge to drive the 40,000 Syrian troops out of Lebanon.