Residents Flee As Militia Fighting Engulfs Capital
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Christian and Moslem militiamen battled along the Green Line on Thursday, raining rocket and artillery fire on Beirut’s main residential areas and sending families fleeing in panic.
Pillars of black smoke billowed over Christian and Moslem neighborhoods as exploding rockets, mortar and artillery shells were traded along the mid-city frontier and in the hills above the capital.
The latest violence is the heaviest fighting in Beirut since Syria launched a peace initiative July 16.
Efforts to convene peace talks stalled, accelerating a slide toward renewed anarchy after a comparative month-long lull.
Police said four people were killed and 41 wounded. The militias blasted more than 40 neighborhoods, ignoring four cease-fire declarations by a security committee that includes representatives of the main warring militias and the Lebanese army.
Moslem gunners shelled Christian army units in hilltop positions east of the city early Thursday. The duels around Souk El-Gharb, seven miles east of Beirut, left five men killed and 17 wounded.
Christian gunners fired shells at a rate of one every three minutes on Beirut’s Shiite Moslem southern suburbs. Moslem forces retaliated with missile salvoes on Christian east Beirut’s main neighborhood of Ashrafieh.
Four cars were hit and set on fire in a narrow street in the main Sassine shopping area of the Christian district. Pools of blood splattered the sidewalks, but police were unable to say how many people were hit.
However, officials said two Lebanese army soldiers and two police officers were wounded in east Beirut. The soldiers were hit by shrapnel as they put out a fire started by the bombardment.
Fighting along Beirut’s three-mile Green Line and in the mountains has raged continously since Saturday, killing 37 people and wounding 197 by police count.
″We counted 25 incoming shells in the last hour alone,″ said Mohammed Anam, 32, a teacher in Beirut’s Moslem suburb of Bourj el-Barajneh.
Tfaili Eli, an elderly woman who has lost two sons in the recent fighting, wept as she huddled in a corner of Anam’s bathroom.
She was one of 60 neighbors and friends who took refuge in Anam’s small one-story home because it is protected by two high-rise buildings.
Associated Press newsman Juan-Carlos Gumucio reported from the southern suburbs that panic-stricken families fled through the rubble-strewn streets to areas that have not been shelled.
There were reports that Syria, the main powerbroker in Lebanon, had met with a deadlock in its efforts to arrange a meeting of the divided Lebanese Cabinet.
Druse leader Walid Jumblatt and his ally, Shiite Moslem Amal militia leader Nabih Berri, have refused to attend any Cabinet sessions held at the palaces of President Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Christian.
The two men spearhead Moslem opposition to Lebanon’s Christian-dominated political system and have been demanding Gemayel’s ouster.
Gemayel, 43, has vowed not to step down before the end of his term in September 1988 ″or unless I’m dead.″
Police said rockets also poured Thursday on the east Beirut suburb of Sadd el-Boushrieh, where rescue workers dug through the rubble of an apartment block wrecked by a car bomb.
They said 13 people were killed in the blast Wednesday, including three children, and another 122 were wounded. Two people were missing after the third car bombing in east Beirut in recent weeks.
In east Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Moslem militiamen fired shells for 45 minutes into the Christian town of Zahle, police said.
Zahle, a city of 100,000 people 33 miles east of Beirut, is the only Christian enclave in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa. Police said no casualties were reported.