Moslem and Christian Forces Trade Artillery Fire; 33 Killed
Mar. 14, 1989
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Christian soldiers and Moslem militiamen turned the Lebanese capital into a battlefield today with fierce shelling that shattered neighborhoods and paralyzed the port and airport. Police said 33 people died and 93 were injured.
All the casualties were civilians except three soldiers killed and three wounded.
The duels caught Beirut at the peak of the morning rush hour and raged past midday. Cars burned in the rain-drenched streets.
A police spokesman, who cannot be named under standing rules, said most casualties occurred in Moslem west Beirut. It was the first time in nearly a week of fighting that residential neighborhoods have come under sustained artillery bombardment.
Acting Prime Minister Salim Hoss, who heads the Moslem Cabinet in Lebanon's dual government, called for a speedy end to ''this shameful massacre, this new cycle of mad violence.''
Today's casualities raised the overall toll in the latest violence to 39 dead and 125 injured, by police count.
The new round of fighting in the 14-year civil war began Wednesday after the army commander, Gen. Michel Aoun, who also heads the Christian Cabinet, began enforcing an air and sea blockade aimed at illegal harbors operated by Moslem and Christian militias.
The militias use the ports to bring in arms, supplies and imported goods sold in the areas they control.
The Christian Cabinet said shells and rockets from the Moslem side were falling around the Defense Ministry in suburban Yarze northeast of Beirut and around the hilltop presidential palace in neighboring Baabda.
Clouds of black smoke billowed over the capital as horn-honking motorists raced out of stricken neighborhoods and gunmen shot in the air to clear paths for ambulances.
Schools sent students home and shopkeepers lowered their shutters throughout the capital. Radio stations broadcast warnings to the public to remain indoors.
''It's moronic,'' said English teacher Fatima Haidar as she closed her secondary school in west Beirut's Verdun neighborhood, the thunder of shellfire echoing across the city. ''They are the gardeners of violence.''
Police said several mortar shells and rockets landed at Christian- controlled Beirut port and the harbor of Jounieh in Lebanon's Christian enclave, about 12 miles north of the capital.
The bombardment of Jounieh appeared aimed at disrupting the main shipping lane linking Lebanon's Christian heartland with the outside world.
Police said shells also crashed around Beirut's International Airport, which was reopened to civil aviation on Monday after a two-day shutdown.
Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national carrier, said today it had suspended flights to and from the nation's only official air transport facility until further notice ''because of the current security deterioration.''
In one west Beirut neighborhood, a howitzer salvo landed on a crowded street, setting at least seven cars on fire. Rescuers could be seen pulling a charred body from one car.
Aoun's headquarters accused Syrian troops stationed in west and south Beirut and neighboring hills of starting the duel.
''Beirut Port is being shelled for a third day. The bombardment has spread to hit Jounieh as well as residential districts despite repeated warnings to stop playing with fire,'' he said in a communique.
''Warnings also were served to avoid being trapped in the intrigues of the Syrian occupation to push the Lebanese into fighting each other anew,'' it said.
''We have information that the Syrian occupiers will escalate the bombardment to engulf all sectors and residential neighborhoods. Therefore, we ask schools to close and people to remain indoors.''
There was no response from the command of the 12,000 Syrian troops stationed in Beirut's Moslem sector, or from Syrian-allied Druse and Shiite Moslem militias.