Hezbollah Advances on Amal’s Last Bastion In South Beirut
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Fighters loyal to Iran assaulted the last pocket held by pro-Syrian militiamen in the Shiite Moslem slums Tuesday, increasing pressure on Syria’s army to move in and stop the 19-day-old war.
Police said 17 people were killed and 49 wounded in house-to-house fighting in south Beirut, a warren of narrow alleys, tin-roofed huts and concrete-block apartments that covers 16 square miles next to the Beirut airport.
That raised the casualty toll kept by police to 296 killed and 1,000 wounded since fighting began May 6 between Hezbollah, the radical group allied with Iran, and the mainline Amal militia supported by Syria.
In Christian east Beirut, the right-wing Phalange of President Amin Gemayel and the Lebanese Forces, the main Christian militia, clashed during the night. The militias are rivals for control of the capital’s Christian sector.
Police said the fight started after Lebanese Forces gunmen wounded Nabil Kahhaleh, Phalange commander in the Sin el-Fil district. Police said one person was killed and four were wounded.
Hezbollah, whose name means Party of God, controls 95 percent of south Beirut, where most of the 18 foreigners missing in Lebanon are believed held by Shiite factions linked to the militia. Nine Americans are among the captives.
A police spokesman said Hezbollah fighters ″stormed through Amal positions″ in the Ghobeiry neighborhood behind a fierce howitzer and mortar barrage.
He said Amal withdrew into the Shiyah district on the northern edge of the slums. ″Hezbollah now controls the southern and western flanks of Shiyah and its gunners are pounding Amal’s supply lines on the northern edge,″ said the spokesman, whose name cannot be used because of regulations.
Syria’s soldiers patrol west Beirut and it has 25,000 men stationed in eastern and northern Lebanon.
It deployed 7,500 troops, 100 tanks and 400 armored vehicles on the southern, western and northern edges of the slums May 15 after Hezbollah had seized most of the slums.
Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem who is Lebanon’s acting prime minister, has urged Syria to act ″without delay″ to end the fighting.
Amal conceded defeat in Ghobeiry and claimed Palestinian guerrillas from Fatah, the main army of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, were helping Hezbollah.
The PLO controls Bourj el-Barajneh, a refugee enclave in the Shiite slums.
An Amal statement said: ″Hezbollah has managed to achieve some gains in Ghobeiry.″
It said the Hezbollah assault was coordinated by senior officers of the militia and Fatah, and Iranian Revolutionary Guards sent from their base in eastern Lebanon. Fatah denied helping Hezbollah.
T-54 tanks and truck-mounted rocket launchers manned by Amal fighters poured fire from Shiyah into Hezbollah territory.
No clear word on the fate of the hostages has emerged since the fight for the Shiite slums began.
Ad-Diyar, a Christian daily newspaper, said two American captives were being held at the Iranian Embassy in Moslem west Beirut. The report did not identify the hosages and could not be verified independently.
Last week, Iranian officials denied reports that some hostages were held in the basement of the embassy.
The report in Ad-Diyar said Hezbollah ″brought a doctor from west Beirut to the southern suburbs to check on a hostage who is suffering from a lung disease.″ It did not elaborate.
A statement Tuesday purporting to be from the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War, said the captives would be killed unless their governments opened direct negotiations with the kidnappers. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the statement issued in the Bekaa Valley of east Lebanon.
Terry A. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press, is the hostage held longest. He was kidnapped March 16, 1985.
Fighting in the slums instensified Monday after Syria rejected an Iranian proposal for a joint peace-keeping force in the slums.
Brig. Gen. Ali Hammoud, chief of Syrian military intelligence in Beirut, said the Iranian proposal was ″out of the question.″
President Hafez Assad of Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon after 13 years of civil war, and Iran’s main Arab ally in its 7 1/2 -year-old war with Iraq.
Despite their alliance, Syria and Iran are involved in a struggle through surrogates for influence with the 1.2 million Shiites, the largest sect in Lebanon.