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Combatants Skirmish, Residents Emerge to Buy Food

August 17, 1989

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Syrians and Christians traded shellfire Thursday, but it was a relative lull in the 5-month-old artillery war and people emerged from shelters to replenish food stocks in case fierce exchanges resumed.

The devastating artillery and rocket barrages that have ravaged the city abated soon after the U.N. Security Council passed a cease-fire resolution Tuesday night in New York, but residents of Beirut feared the lull would not last.

In Washington, the State Department urged ″all parties to accept and observe the cease-fire immediately,″ said spokesman Rihard Boucher.

Police said shells landed in Beirut’s Moslem and Christian sectors and along the Christian-held coast north of the city, killing a 7-year-old girl and wounding three people.

France said it was sending the aircraft carrier Foch on a possible evacuation mission to join the destroyer Duquesne, which was dispatched Tuesday ″to aid the French community.″ Lebanon was a French mandate until 1943 and about 7,000 French citizens live in the country, 85 percent of them with dual nationality.

A spokesman for Makassed hospital in Moslem west Beirut said 4-day-old Aziza Qobaissi, delivered by Caesarian section after her mother was killed by shrapnel Monday, had died in an incubator.

″We are trying to locate her father, Hussein Qobaissi, to inform him of the death, but it seems he is not in Beirut,″ the spokesman said.

All but 150,000 of Beirut’s 1.5 million people have left since the battle began March 8 between Gen. Michel Aoun’s Christian army units and a Moslem alliance led by Syrian soldiers stationed in Lebanon. Total casualties by police count, nearly all civilians, as 776 killed and 2,076 wounded.

A police spokesman said shelling Thursday was ″at a much lesser scale than during the ferocious duels that preceded the cease-fire call.″

People went out to to buy food and drinking water, expecting further violence.

″What cease-fire?″ Fatima Hamdan asked, arguing with a vegetable vendor over the price of a 50-pound sack of potatoes.

″I’m buying this quantity for me and my daughter because I’m sure they are going to fight heavily again,″ said Mrs. Hamdan, a Shiite Moslem. ″One doesn’t need refrigerators to keep potatoes.″

Ahmad Omeirat, the vendor, said most customers were ″buying large quantities. ... They want to have something to eat in the bad days.″

Banks opened for one hour. Ibrahim Masry, a bank employee in west Beirut, said: ″They all want cash. ... It seems nobody trusts the cease-fire.″

A spokesman for Aoun said the 54-year-old Maronite Catholic general ″welcomed the U.N. Security council resolution as a whole, not just the cease-fire.″

″The resolution involves a cease-fire, lifting of blockades and programming the Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon,″ said the spokesman, who would not let his name be used.

An alliance of leftist and Moslem militias supported by Syria and Iran announced ″conditional approval″ of the resolution.

A statement from the Nationalist Front released in Damascus, the Syrian capital, said it ″accepts the call for a cease-fire provided that an inter- Lebanese committee be formed to monitor the Lebanese coast and prevent the delivery of arms shipments to Aoun.″

In Iraq, Syria’s enemy and Aoun’s arms supplier, the government daily Baghdad Observer urged Arab countries to force Syria out of Lebanon. Syria has 40,000 soldiers in the country under an Arab League mandate issued in 1976, the year after the the sectarian civil war began.

″Tell the Syrians to leave,″ the paper said. ″The situation in Lebanon has reached a point where courteous diplomatic words are no longer valid to bring about an end to the Beirut carnage.″

Aoun, who has 20,000 men, calls the Syrians an occupation army and has declared a ″war of liberation″ to drive them out.

His spokesman rejected the idea of an inter-Lebanese committee. ″Our war hasn’t been with Lebanese factions,″ the spokesman said. ″We’ve been fighting the Syrians for more than five months and now they want to forge facts and say the conflict is between Lebanese groups.″

The cease-fire will ″face a major test when any ship tries to dock at our ports,″ he said. ″If they shell it, we’ll certainly respond.″

Nabih Berri, leader of the Syrian-backed Shiite militia Amal, was quoted by the London-based Mideast Mirror newsletter as saying the truce was ″unacceptable so long as the sea lanes remain without control - all Lebanese sea lanes, not just the shores of the eastern (Christian) sector.″

Druse chieftain Walid Jumblatt, Syria’s closest ally in the Nationalist Front, rejected the cease-fire altogether. ″Either Aoun goes or it is war to the end,″ he said.

Jumblatt’s militia started the shooting two days after Aoun blockaded illegal ports run by Syrian-backed militias, which deprive the government of about $100 million a year in customs revenue.

The general and Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem who is acting premier, have led competing cabinets since a government crisis in last year that also split the army. Maj. Gen. Sami Khatib leads the 22,000 Moslem soldiers, who are poorly equipped and have stayed out of the fighting.

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