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Syrians, Christians Fight Fierce Duels As Tanker Unloads

July 14, 1989

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Fierce rocket and artillery duels occurred in Beirut today after an oil tanker broke through a Syrian blockade and began unloading badly needed gasoline for the besieged Christians.

Police said the barrage killed one person and and wounded seven.

That raised the toll to 410 killed and 1,622 wounded since March 8 when the confrontation began between the 20,000 troops of the Christian army commander, Gen. Michel Aoun, and Syria’s 40,000-strong force in Lebanon.

Syrians opened up with 130mm howitzers and BM-21 rocket launchers, hitting east Beirut’s residential districts and a 28-mile coastal stretch to the north dotted with three major ports and small harbors.

The Soviet-designed launchers fire 40 122mm rockets a minute.

Aoun’s gunners fired back with 155mm howitzers, targeting Syrian batteries along west Beirut’s main boulevard. But several shells also crashed in residential districts, causing considerable damage.

Radio stations interrupted programs to advise residents to stay in basements and underground shelters.

News reporter Bahjat Jaber said that from his house he watched ″scores″ of rockets and shells fall along the beach at the Christian port of Jounieh, 12 miles north of Beirut,

″The whole area is shaking,″ Jaber said by telephone. ″They are shelling every docking facility, even fishermen’s ports.″

A spokesman for Aoun said the Syrian target was a tanker carrying gasoline for 1 million Christians besieged in a 310-square-mile enclave.

The spokesman, who requested anonymity, said Lebanese gunners provided cover for the vessel to sail into port.

″The tanker has already dropped anchor,″ he said, refusing to say at which harbor for security reasons. He also would not give the tanker’s name, the amount of gasoline it was carrying or its nationality.

He said a Syrian gunboat intercepted the ship earlier today in Lebanese territorial waters, searched it for arms and allowed it to sail on. But soon after, Syrian gunners opened up.

Syrian shells have struck at least six ships since the blockade was imposed March 12. The last victim was the Maltese-registered tanker Aloil, which sank off the enclave Sunday after unloading 880 tons of gasoline.

The Aloil also had been searched by Syrian gunboats and allowed to sail on before it was shelled.

Syria began the siege in retaliation for a blockade Aoun imposed on illegal ports run by Syrian-backed militias south of Beirut.

Syrian gunboats intervened to tighten the siege two weeks ago after reports that Aoun obtained Soviet-designed Frog-7 missiles from Iraq, Syria’s main Arab rival.

Syria demanded the medium-range missiles, capable of hitting Damascus, be removed from the enclave.

Aoun and his aides have refused to confirm or deny acquisition of the missiles, which have a range of 45 miles.

Syria and Iraq are longtime rivals, and Iraq has declared support for Aoun’s ″war of liberation″ against Syrian troops deployed in Lebanon under a 1976 Arab League peacekeeping mandate.

Aoun says the Syrians lost their credibility after siding with the Moslems in the strife that has so far killed more than 150,000 people.

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