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Fighting at Palestinian Camps, Locust Invasion Reported

June 9, 1986

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ The death toll passed 100 Monday in the battle for Beirut’s refugee camps and the government reported a locust plague, one of the few disasters Lebanon had been spared in 11 years of civil war.

Two rocket-propelled grenades were fired Monday night into the second-floor newsroom of the government television station in west Beirut, causing material damage but no injuries, police reported. The station’s broadcast of a World Cup soccer game from Mexico City was not interrupted.

Police said eight people were killed and 38 wounded in 24 hours of fighting between Palestinian guerrillas and Shiite militiamen around the Sabra, Chatilla and Bourj el-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camps in Moslem west Beirut.

The new figures brought known casualties to 105 dead and 468 wounded since May 19, when the latest struggle began in the intermittent year-old war for supremacy in the shantytowns and Shiite slums.

Syria, which is Lebanon’s main power broker, and Iran, which is predominantly Shiite but champions the Palestinian cause, have been trying to work out a formula for Shiite-Palestinian coexistence.

Palestinian guerrilla statements said Shiite gunners of Nabih Berri’s militia Amal poured barrages of cannon fire and 120mm mortar fire into the camps overnight and throughout the day Monday.

Police said guerrilla defenders fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at Amal militiamen crouched behind sandbags and mounds of earth around the besieged camps, which have a combined refugee population of 50,000.

A stray mortar round hit the runway at Beirut International Airport, but no damage or casualties were reported and air traffic was not affected, according to the police report.

Mohammed Ali Bcharati, deputy foreign minister of Iran, arrived Sunday and discussed the camp war with Prime Minister Rashid Karami, who is a Sunni Moslem as are most Palestinians. An Iranian Embassy statement that reported the meeting gave no details.

In earlier meetings with Shiite religious leaders, the embassy said, Bcharati discussed a coexistence formula for the camps and the densely populated Shiite areas surrounding them.

Bcharati spoke with President Hafez Assad of Syria and his senior aides in Damascus before coming to Beirut.

Syria, which maintains 25,000 troops in northern and eastern Lebanon, backs Amal and the Palestine National Salvation Front, whose fighters switched sides and joined Yasser Arafat’s loyalist guerrillas against Amal.

Assad was said to be furious at his surrogates’ new alliance with forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman.

Beirut radio stations said Assad’s government summoned Berri and Salvation Front representatives to Damascus to discuss ways of preventing Arafat from rebuilding the Lebanon power base he lost in Israel’s 1982 invasion.

Agriculture Ministry experts met with the army command and civil defense corps about the locust invasion in Lebanon’s Christian heartland.

Waves of locusts began arriving Saturday, and by Monday threatened 600 square miles of the Christian-controlled area north and northeast of Beirut.

An official statement said the government of President Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Catholic, and the army decided to send emergency patrols to fight the locusts around three villages in the Mount Lebanon and Kesrawan areas.

″We have to act quickly to besiege the locust-infested areas. We should move like firefighters battling a blaze. We have first to contain it and then do away with it,″ said Mohammed Muhanna, spokesman for the Health Ministry, according to a report on the Christian radio Voice of Lebanon.

The radio reported ″rapid breeding″ of the insects and said foreign experts might be asked to help cope with the first locust invasion of Lebanon in nearly 70 years.

Its report quoted agriculture expert Arthur Daou as saying it would be a ″national disaster″ if the locusts spread into the eastern Bekaa Valley and the Akkar Valley in the north, Lebanon’s main agricultural areas.

The Bekaa is a predominantly Shiite area occupied by Syrian troops and the Akkar’s population is a mix of Moslems and Christians.

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