Tanker Struck by Syrian Shellfire, 7 Killed
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Syrian gunners today shelled a tanker carrying fuel for Lebanon’s besieged Christians, setting it on fire and killing seven crewmen, police reported.
Two Lebanese crewmen were wounded and rescued by coast guard vessels. Two others were missing and feared dead.
The seven victims, including Lebanese captain Johannes Garabedian, were washed ashore on the coastal strip held by the Christians several hours after the Maltese-flag tanker was hit, police reported.
The incident touched off a fierce five-hour artillery battle between the Syrians and the Christian forces of Gen. Michel Aoun in and around divided Beirut. Police said three people were killed and 16 wounded in the barrage, which dwindled to intermittent mortar and machine gun exchanges by 8:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. EDT).
That raised the casualty toll since fighting erupted March 8 to at least 795 people killed and 2,263 wounded.
Police said only two Lebanese among 11 crewmen aboard were rescued. One of the survivors, Hanna Saddiq, said the tanker was attacked with missiles by ″a Syrian gunboat″ enforcing the 5-month-old blockade off the Christian-held coast during the night.
But a police spokesman, who cannot be named under standing regulations, said the ship was shelled by radar-controlled Syrian howitzers deployed along the seafront in Moslem west Beirut.
Syrian artillery batteries along west Beirut’s seafront also fired on Aoun’s positions and the shelling quickly spread to residential districts, police reported.
Police said the ship, identified as the Sunshield, was hit at least once by radar-guided artillery about seven miles off Maameltein, an area 11 miles north of this war-torn capital.
The crew included five Lebanese, four Egyptians and two Ghanaians. Police said only three of the bodies, all Lebanese, were identified.
Saddiq, 24, told reporters at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Christian east Beirut, where he was being treated for severe burns, that a Syrian gunboat approached to within 10 yards around 2:20 a.m.
The police spokesman said he had no information on the ship’s tonnage, registry or owners.
He said the Sunshield was carrying 550,000 gallons of gasoline purchased by the Christian government headed by Aoun, which is vying for power with a rival Syrian-backed Moslem Cabinet.
A tugboat succeeded in getting a line on the burning ship early today and towed it to within a half-mile of the coast as firefighters battled to extinguish the blaze, the spokesman reported.
Dozens of ships have managed to evade a Syrian blockade to deliver weapons and other supplies in recent weeks, but there is a critical shortage of gasoline and other fuel in the enclave.
About 1 million residents live in the enclave.
Seven other cargo ships attempting to run the blockade have been hit by the Syrians since March 16. At least two seamen have been killed.
Syrian gunners have also daily shelled the Christian port of Jounieh, north of Beirut, seeking to sever the sea link with Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 100 miles to the northeast. Jounieh is the enclave’s main port.
The fighting flared today as French envoy Francois Scheer, Secretary- General of the Foreign Ministry in Paris, was expected to arrive in Beirut for talks with Christian and Moslem leaders in a new peace effort to halt the bloodletting.
Scheer has been in Damascus, the Syrian capital, since Sunday meeting Syrian leaders following the collapse of Arab League mediation efforts.
The Syrians have 40,000 troops in Lebanon under a 1976 Arab League mandate to halt Lebanon’s civil war, which erupted in April 1975.
Syria, which considers Lebanon within its sphere of influence and vital to its security, backs demands by Lebanon’s Moslem and leftists for an equal share of power with the traditionally dominant Christians.
Aoun, a Maronite Catholic, has accepted to negotiate political reforms. But he has declared a ″war of liberation″ to drive Syria’s troops out of the predominantly Moslem sectors they have controlled since 1976.
Aoun and other Christian leaders charge that the Syrians abrogated their Arab League peacekeeping mandate by openly siding with the Moslems in the 14- year-old civil war, in which more than 150,000 people have been killed.