Christian Militias Ignore Cease-fire, 19 Injured in Shelling
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Rival Christian forces ignored a call for a Tuesday cease-fire and pounded each other with artillery and rocket barrages, devastating residential areas and severely damaging two hosptitals.
Nineteen people were injured Tuesday, raising the toll to 19 dead and 46 wounded since fighting was renewed Monday between renegade Gen. Michel Aoun’s army and Christian warlord Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces militia.
According to a police count, 941 people have been killed and 2,502 wounded since the fight began Jan. 30.
In south Lebanon, meanwhile, four people were killed and six wounded in artillery duels between the Iranian-backed, fundamentalist Hezbollah, or Party of God, and their Shiite rivals, the Syrian-supported Amal militia, police said.
The two militias have been battling on and off for two years for dominance of Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shiite community, the country’s largest sect.
In another incident, Israeli soldiers killed two Arab guerrillas Tuesday in a clash near the border, the Israeli army said.
The Israeli military said the guerrillas’ identity was unknown. On Monday, Israeli troops shot and killed a guerrilla belonging to a pro-Syrian organization and captured another in a shootout six miles north of the border.
In Beirut’s Christian sector, a three-man mediation committee called for a cease-fire Tuesday evening, but the call went unheeded as the two rival factions bombarded residential areas at the rate of 20 shells and rockets a minute.
Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, was one of the leaders appealing for the cease-fire.
Aoun and Geagea are Maronites, the Christian community that has dominated politics in Lebanon since independence from France in 1943.
″Our bible does not permit such practices. Enough destruction. Enough war,″ Nasrallah said.
″This shelling only leads to more destruction. ... It doesn’t lead to any outcome. Only the poor population is the victim,″ Sfeir said in his appeal broadcast by all radio stations in Lebanon.
On Monday, thunderous shelling raged through the night, setting hospitals and apartment blocks on fire. Huge tongues of flame licked into the night sky amid the flashes of exploding shells and rockets.
The fighting in the Ashrafiyeh, Karantina, Badaro and Furn el-Shubbak neighborhoods of Christian east Beirut eased off around daybreak into mortar and machine gun clashes.
A police spokesman, who cannot be named under standing regulations, said Aoun’s military hospital in Badaro was severely damaged by salvoes of 122mm rockets fired by Geagea’s gunners.
He said Aoun’s 130mm howitzer batteries hammered the Hospital de Notre Dame du Liban in Jounieh, a Geagea-controlled port 12 1/2 miles north of Beirut.
One hospital patient was interviewed on Geagea’s Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. television station.
″Despite my wound, I left the bed and hid in the closet. I stayed there until nurses came into the room and took me to the shelter on a stretcher,″ he said.
A carpet of debris and broken glass covered the corridors of the seven story hospital and its owner, Dr. Fawzi Azaimi, appealed to both sides to stop shelling medical centers.
″This is a crime,″ said Azaimi, who heads the syndicate of private-sector hospitals.
″Private hospitals can hardly cope with the difficulties they’re facing. We cannot afford reconstruction costs. I plead with the government for urgent financial assistance,″ he added.
The Christian confrontation has caused damage estimated at $1 billion and forced 400,000 of the enclave’s 1 million population to seek refuge in safer parts of Lebanon or flee abroad.