Arafat’s Fighters May Abandon Last Beirut Stronghold
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian guerrillas held talks with Arab mediators today about abandoning their last Beirut stronghold, the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp, to end a bloody power struggle with a Syrian-backed militia, police said.
Col. Saeed Mousa’s Fatah-Uprising faction stopped shelling the camp while Arafat’s Fatah fighters negotiated with Algerian officials, Syrian Army officers and leaders of leftist Lebanese militias, police said.
Scattered clashes were reported on the edges of the camp.
At least 158 people have been killed and 618 wounded since fighting broke out May 1 for control of Bourj el-Barajneh and the nearby Chatilla camp.
The struggle involves two Palestinian militias - Arafat’s Fatah and Mousa’s dissidents, who in 1983 broke away from Arafat.
A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the mediators were ″working on a plan″ to evacuate from the camp the last group of Arafat’s guerrillas, estimated at 100.
The loss of Chatilla and the likely evacuation of Bourj el-Barajneh are a serious setback for Arafat, who has been trying to rebuild his power base in Lebanon since he was forced out of Beirut in Israel’s 1982 invasion.
A Fatah official in Bourj el-Barajneh, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Fatah guerrillas have ″accepted the evacuation idea in principle but are demanding guarantees that they will not be attacked when then leave the camp.″
He said about 150 Fatah fighters have already left the camp peacefully since the latest bout of fighting erupted Monday.
A Fatah-Uprising spokesman, Abu-Fadi Hammad, said Arafat’s men ″will only be allowed to evacuate after they hand over their weapons.″
The Fatah spokesman said the guerrillas still in Bourj el-Barajneh will probably be taken to Palestine Liberation Organization bases near the port city of Sidon, about 25 miles south of Beirut.
Mousa’s fighters, based in the Syrian-controlled mountains overlooking Beirut, heavily outgunned Arafat’s men when they overran Chatilla June 27, using artillery, rockets and heavy mortars.
Arafat’s men dislodged Mousa’s fighters from the camps soon after the power struggle flared in May. But the Syrian-backed Fatah-Uprising faction regrouped and counter-attacked in ferocious bombardments of the camps from positions in the mountains. Though Arafat’s men were able to repulse more than 20 assaults by Mousa’s guerrillas, they have steadily lost ground.
Fatah officials said 80 percent of Bourj el-Barajneh has been wrecked in the last two months. Only an estimated 3,000 of the camp’s 20,000 residents remain.
The fighting between the Palestinian factions was preceded by nearly six years of attacks by Israelis, Lebanese Christian militias and Syrian-backed Shiite Moslems, in which thousands of people were killed or wounded.
Mousa broke away from Arafat’s PLO in a Syrian-backed mutiny in May 1983 and set up headquarters in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The latest fighting flared after the PLO chairman visited Damascus in April to try to end his five-year feud with Syrian President Hafez Assad over who would control the Palestinian movement.
Arafat has accused the Syrian government of fomenting the battle in Beirut to assert its control on the Moslem sector of the city.