Five Killed in Clashes, Civilians Dig Mountain Caves for Shelter
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Rival Christian forces exchanged machine gun and sniper fire Wednesday, killing three people, as civilians dug caves in mountains to protect themselves in case of renewed shelling duels.
The inconclusive showdown between renegade army Gen. Michel Aoun and Christian warlord Samir Geagea for mastery of the Christian enclave has left nearly 900 dead since it began on Jan. 30.
In another development, Shiite Moslem militias allied with Iran and Syria battled in the ancient town of Baalbek, 53 miles northeast of Beirut.
Police said one militiaman of the Syrian-backed mainstream Shiite Amal militia, and another from the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God, were killed in the shootout.
The two factions have been fighting intermittently for more than two years for dominance among Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shiites, the largest community in the war-torn nation. The Lebanese civil war itself is in its 15th year.
A police spokesman, who cannot be named in line with regulations, said a majority of the 1 million residents of the Christian enclave have fled the area.
He said some Christians who could not afford to flee were digging caves along the rocky slopes of the Kesrouan mountains for shelter in case of renewed artillery duels.
At least a dozen caves were under construction in the Bou Mizan region near the shell-shattered mountain resort of Kleiat, 15 miles northeast of Beirut.
Kleiat, well-known for its plush restaurants, nightclubs and villas, has become a no-man’s land with both Aoun’s soldiers and Geagea’s fighters repeatedly storming the area to gain control of the network of narrow mountain roads which it commands.
″Most of those digging caves are poor villagers who cannot afford to rent houses or hotel rooms in other areas,″ the police spokesman said.
Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943.