Pro-Iranian Guerrillas Beat Back Amal Assault
SIDON, Lebanon (AP) _ Iranian-backed Shiite Moslem guerrillas, trapped in a mountain enclave in south Lebanon, today fought off a tank-led assault by pro-Syrian rivals who outnumbered them two-to-one, police reported.
A police official speaking on condition of anonymity said the Syrian-backed Amal militia stormed positions held by the fundamentalist Hezbollah, or Party of God, in the village of Jbaa.
The 1,000 Amal militiamen, spearheaded by Soviet-designed T-54 battle tanks, launched their assault after two days of savage fighting for control of the predominantly Shiite region near Israel’s self-designated ″security zone,″ along Lebanon’s southern border.
Police said the estimated 500 Hezbollah fighters, cornered in a mountain enclave after being driven out of several strategic villages Monday, later counterattacked and pushed Amal out of the hilltop village.
Amal ″is currently launching another attack,″ the spokesman said.
Jbaa, 10 miles southeast of the port city of Sidon, is a key part of the Hezbollah-held sector.
Abu Hussein, an Amal commander in Sidon, said the battle would be a fight to the finish.
″There will be no cease-fire,″ he told reporters. ″It’s either us or them. The attack will not come to an end until we finish Hezbollah in the whole of south Lebanon.″
Police had no word of casualties in today’s fighting. But at nightfall Monday, they reported that at least 105 people had been killed and 300 wounded since early Sunday.
Nearly 500 people have been killed and 1,500 wounded in fighting between the Shiite factions since Dec. 31, when the latest round in a 9-month-old battle for dominance of Lebanon’s 1 million Shiites broke out.
A police spokesman, who cannot be named under standing regulations, said Amal now controls most of the Iklim Tiffah, or Apple Province, in the south.
Amal fighters on Monday dislodged Hezbollah from a several villages east of Sidon, which the fundamentalists had seized on Sunday.
The police spokesman said Hezbollah gunmen ″stabbed to death several civilians and Amal militiamen. Some of the victims were found with their throats cut and other with their heads chopped off.″
The Hezbollah fighters were sandwiched in a narrow, 9-square-mile strip between the advancing Amal force and the western flank of Israel’s self- designated security zone, cut off from reinforcements and supplies, police reported.
The fundamentalists, who seek to create an Iranian-style Islamic republic in Lebanon, were dug in around Jbaa, the nearby hamlets of Ein Bouswar and Louwiazah and the wooded slopes of Jabal Safi.
Sheik Kamel Wehbeh, Jbaa’s imam, or preacher, said the region’s predominantly Shiite population ″does not want Hezbollah, which commits massacres, kills prisoners and destroys villages.″
Police said about 15,000 civilians had fled their villages because of the fighting and taken refuge in Amal-controlled regions.
The fighting raged despite intensified efforts by Iran and Syria to rein in their militias.
Iran’s first deputy foreign minister, Ali Mohammed Besharati, was in the Syrian capital of Damascus seeking to mediate a cease-fire. Shiite sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was expected in Beirut today.
Amal’s Abu Hussein said his men were ″determined to finish Hezbollah in the south, even if Besharati tries to work out a settlement.″
Amal rejects an Islamic government and advocates a government in which Moslems have an equal share of power with Lebanon’s traditionally dominant Christians. It drove Hezbollah out of most of south Lebanon in a four-day battle last April. A month later, Hezbollah retaliated and stormed Amal territory in Beirut’s southern slums, a Shiite stronghold.
More than 350 people were killed and 1,150 wounded in those clashes.
Syria sent in its army to quell the fighting. But the violence erupted again in November, spilling over into west Beirut. Forty people were killed and 87 wounded in six days of street battles.
Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, maintains about 40,000 troops in eastern and northern provinces and Moslem sectors of Beirut.