Fighting Ebbs And Refugees Converge On Beirut
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Thousands of returning residents jammed highways to the devastated capital today after Christian army Gen. Michel Aoun accepted an Arab peace plan and fighting ebbed between Syria troops and Aoun’s forces.
Arab League envoy Lakhdar al-Ibrahimi, entrusted with supervising the cease-fire, held contacts with army and militia commanders ahead of the first meeting later today of a proposed security committee to check any violations.
Police said traditional front lines in Beirut, northern Lebanon and in eastern mountains were ″generally quiet.″
A police spokesman said no major clashes had been reported since 10 p.m. Friday.
″Volleys of automatic gunfire can be heard every now and then, but no clashes in the military sense of the word,″ he said on condition of anonymity in line with standing regulations.
Six months of fighting have killed 929 people, wounded 2,738 others and forced all but 150,000 people of Beirut’s 1.5 million residents to flee. Some sought refuge in safer areas in Lebanon; others left the country altogether.
Thousands of cars packed with families, suitcases, mattresses and blankets, jammed the main entrances to the city today.
Khalil Hatab said he, his wife and six children had been living in a room they rented in southern Lebanon shortly after the latest round of fighting broke out March 8.
″Can you imagine the eight of us living in one room for half a year. At certain times, we even had guests, relatives, neighbors and friends who also escaped with no where to go,″ Hatab said during a traffic jam on Ouzai, the southern entrance to Beirut.
He said he was returning to his home in the west Beirut neighborhood of Ras al-Nabaa because he believed the worst was over.
Bahjat Jaber, a local reporter in Jounieh, north of Beirut, said lines of bumper-to-bumper cars crowded the northern entrance into the Christian heartland, which has been besieged by the Syrians and their Moslem allies for six months.
″It seems like all the entire Lebanese population is heading to Beirut today,″ he said.
He said scores of school buses also were rolling into the city apparently in preparation for the resumption of classes, which were suspended during the violence.
″It’s like magic. Yesterday Beirut was a ghost city. Today it is bustling with life,″ Jaber said.
The security committee proposed under the peace plan would oversee implementation of a truce and the lifting of blockades imposed by the warring factions on each other’s ports.
It also would monitor maritime operations to assure no weapons shipments reach any of the Lebanese factions and set the stage for a political settlement of Lebanon’s 14-year-old civil war.
The proposal calls for a meeting outside Lebanon of the nation’s parliament to recommend political reforms that would distribute power equally between Christians and Moslems.
Christians have dominated the government, judiciary and army since Lebanon’s independence from France in 1943, when they were thought to be the majority.
Although no official census has been taken since 1932, Moslems are now believed to make up 55 percent of the 4 million population.