Heavy Fighting at Camps; New Wave of Kidnappings
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Shiite Moslem militiamen battered Beirut’s three Palestinian refugee camps with tank and mortar fire Monday, breaking a two-day truce arranged by Syria. Police reported three people killed and seven wounded.
Gunners of Justice Minister Nabih Berri’s Amal militia opened fire at 3 p.m. Palestinians fought back with 50-caliber machine guns and rocket- propelled grenades from their beleaguered camps on Beirut’s southern flank.
The Syrian-brokered truce that began Saturday evening had curtailed the bloodletting after 27 days of fighting at the Sabra, Chatilla and Bourj el- Barajneh camps that killed 127 people and wounded 613 by police count.
″Government officials and Syrian army observers are making frantic efforts to arrest the sudden deterioration,″ said a police spokesman, who refused to be identified. ″They want to avert a total collapse of the cease-fire.″
The new fighting exploded as Amal and Palestinian representatives met with Syrian observers to seek ways to consolidate the standdown.
Syria mediated the truce in talks with Berri and leaders of the Palestine National Salvation Front, an alliance of six Syrian-backed guerrilla factions opposed to Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Syria’s arch foe.
Syria wants its Amal and Salvation Front allies to keep Arafat from rebuilding the Lebanon power base he lost in Israel’s 1982 invasion. But the Syrians were reported angered to see Salvation Front fighters defecting to fight alongside Arafat’s loyalists against Amal’s attacks.
Police said the outbreak coincided with a wave of kidnappings at Beirut’s Green Line, which splits the capital into a Moslem west and a Christian east.
At least seven Christians, including four printers at the independent newspaper an-Nahar, were abducted as they walked to work across the Green Line’s no-man’s land into west Beirut from the Christian side of the city, police said.
Later Monday, a Moslem group calling itself the Independent Movement for Liberating Civil War Hostages claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in a statement delivered to an-Nahar and accompanied by photographs of the seven hostages.
″We now hold 10 Christian hostages. We have no desire to kidnap more right now,″ the statement said. ″We shall free two of them tomorrow, one of them from an-Nahar’s employees, as a goodwill gesture.″
The group said the other three hostages were Nabil Matar, a Lebanese professor at the American University of Beirut kidnapped last month, and two Armenians abducted last week. Earlier declarations from the group have said it killed four Christian Armenians in west Beirut two weeks ago.
Police said the scene also was tense in the Bekaa Valley town of Mashgara in east Lebanon. Syrian troops backed by Lebanese soldiers separated warring pro-Syrian leftists there from Iranian-backed Shiite fundamentalists.
The two sides failed to effect a swap of 14 kidnapped hostages, endangering a truce that halted three days of fighting which killed 23 people and wounded 129, police said.
Mashgara has a mixed Christian and Moslem population of 17,000. The police spokesman said residents had fled, fearing new violence.
The town lies six miles from the self-designated ″security belt″ set up by Israel in southern Lebanon.
It was the first time Syrian troops moved that far south since Israel withdrew the bulk of its troops from Lebanon in June 1985, and on Monday Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned Syria not to overstay its welcome.
Rabin told The Associated Press in Tel Aviv that the Syrian unit was the size of a commando company with several hundred soldiers. He said that Syria intervened ″to put order there (in Mashgara)″ and that Israel approved of any intervention directed against Hezbollah, the Party of God. The militia is supported by Iran and has been in a confrontation with Lebanon’s Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
In another Lebanese development, President Amin Gemayel’s rightist Christian Phalange Party elected a new leader, who might be capable of reviving Syria’s efforts to settle Lebanon’s 11-year-old civil war.
George Saadeh, 56, defeated incumbent Elie Karameh, 46, at a Phalangist Politburo meeting in east Beirut.
The Lebanese Forces, the nation’s largest Christian militia, which has been estranged from Gemayel, backed Saadeh’s election.
Gemayel himself arrived in trhe Persian Gulf state of Bahrain from Abu Dhabi on Monday for political cooperation talks with the Bahraini ruler, Sheik Isa Bin Salman al-Khalifa.
Earlier in the day, Gemayel and President Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates discussed means of ending Lebanon’s civil war.