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Moslems Shell Beirut Port; Airport Reopens

March 13, 1989

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Christian army units and Moslem militiamen clashed Monday in heavy artillery duels across Beirut, and police said one person was injured.

Eight mortar rounds fired from Moslem west Beirut’s Eein Mriesseh district crashed into the army-controlled city harbor, forcing several merchant ships to sail into open waters, a police spokesman said.

Army troops at the port fired back. There was no report of any vessel being hit, said the spokesman, who cannot be identified under standing rules.

Both sides also battled with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and 106mm recoilless guns in downtown Beirut’s old commercial district straddling the port. The spokesman said at least one passer-by was wounded.

Mortar shells also were lobbed into the Christian residential district of Jommaizeh and at the Syrian-manned 40-story unfinished Murr Tower skyscraper, according to the spokesman.

The port bombardment came a few hours after the reopening of Beirut’s international airport, which was closed Saturday by the Christian Cabinet in Lebanon’s dual government. It broke a cease-fire that had been declared at midnight.

The rival Moslem Cabinet had threatened to sever Lebanon’s sea links with the outside world in retaliation for the airport closure.

″The decision dated March 11 to temporarily close Beirut airport has been cancelled and flight operations are to resume at once,″ said Christian Public Works Minister Edgar Malouf.

″The sudden security deterioration that warranted the closure of the airport has now ceased to exist,″ Malouf said.

About 30 minutes later, a jetliner of the Lebanese cargo carrier Trans- Mediterranean Airways left for Amsterdam. Another TMA plane left later for Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Both planes were empty, airport officials said.

A Middle East Airlines spokesman, Assad Khorshid, said MEA flights would resume ″once international insurance companies give us the green light.″

International insurance companies on Sunday advised MEA, Lebanon’s national carrier, they had temporarily suspended insurance on its passengers and aircraft.

Six people have died since Wednesday in Christian-Moslem clashes around the city.

The violence was touched off when the army commander, Gen. Michel Aoun, who also heads the Christian Cabinet, began enforcing an air and sea blockade aimed at illegal harbors operated by Moslem and Christian militias.

Hostilities focused on the strategic Christian-held town of Souk El-Gharb, which controls a network of roads leading from Druse-held mountains to the Christian heartland. The town is 15 miles southeast of Beirut.

The deserted summer resort, whose 15,000 residents fled early in Lebanon’s nearly 14-year-old civil war, is surrounded by Druse artillery positions.

The conservative Beirut newspaper Ad-Diyar said a compromise was under consideration to resolve the crisis over illegal ports, which militias use to bring in arms, supplies and imported goods sold in the areas they control.

According to the report, the compromise would include a freeze of the port blockade; stationing of customs officers and police by the Moslem Cabinet in the harbors; and deposits of port taxes at the central bank, which would handle the money in coordination with the Christian and Moslem Cabinets.

The fighting has imperiled efforts to resolve a political crisis that has left Lebanon without a president since Sept. 22, when President Amin Gemayel’s term expired.

Minutes before he stepped down, Gemayel named Aoun, a fellow Maronite Catholic, as head of an interim military Cabinet. Moslems and leftists rejected the appointment and pledged allegiance to Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem who governed under Gemayel.