Christian Rivals Clash, Weakening Fragile Truce
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Rival Christian forces skirmished with mortars in east Beirut today, raising fears that a fragile 23-day-old, Vatican-brokered cease-fire could soon collapse.
Police said no casualties were reported in the early morning mortar exchanges between troops loyal to rebel Gen. Michel Aoun and the Lebanese Forces militia led by Samir Geagea.
The cease-fire went into effect May 17, and has halted major clashes between the rival Christian forces, which have been battling for control of the 310-square-mile Christian enclave since Jan. 30.
But despite the cease-fire, there have been daily firefights between Aoun’s troops and Geagea’s militiamen. Police officials said all-out fighting could resume because mediators have failed to secure a political settlement.
″Nothing has changed at the political level,″ said a police spokesman, who cannot be identified by name under standing regulations. ″Both sides remain in their positions, and no one can predict how much longer this cease- fire will hold.″
By police count, 1,036 people have been killed and 2,772 wounded in the Aoun-Geagea power struggle.
The fighting has driven an estimated 400,000 of the enclave’s 1 million population to seek refuge in other parts of Lebanon or abroad.
The police spokesman said some of the refugees who sought sanctuary in Moslem west Beirut cross into the eastern Christian sector of the capital daily to check on their property. But he said they leave before nightfall because they fear a fresh outbreak of violence.
Aoun has rejected October’s Arab League-brokered peace accord aimed at ending Lebanon’s 15-year-old civil war because it does not include a specific timetable for the withdrawal of 40,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon. He also has refused to recognize the Syrian-backed President Elias Hrawi.
Geagea has recognized Hrawi’s authority and given his cautious support to the Arab League peace plan.
In another development, senior officials of rival Shiite Moslem factions met in an effort to resolve their intermittent 3-year-old war for mastery of Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shiites, the country’s largest sect.
The meetings between representatives of the Syrian-backed Amal militia and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God, are sponsored by Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan, head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, and Iran’s Ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Hassan Akhtari.
The meetings, which began Friday, were attended by Sheik Abbas Musawi of the fundamentalist Hezbollah and Mohammed Baydoun of the mainstream Amal.
Both Shiite factions said in separate statements that they welcomed the new effort by Syria and Iran to end the fighting.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and more than 3,000 wounded in the Shiite fighting in Beirut and south Lebanon.
Beirut’s independent An-Nahar daily said today that an expanded meeting between Amal and Hezbollah leaders will be held in Damascus, the Syrian capital, once Kenaan and Akhtari obtain the agreement of the rival factions. The newspaper gave no date for such a meeting.