LONDON (Nov. 13)
Syria re-opened its border with Lebanon today but coupled the gesture with a warning to the Beirut regime that it would take “strict and final” measures if the Cairo agreement between Lebanese authorities and Palestinian guerrillas giving the latter more freedom of action, were not kept. Syria closed its Lebanese border 24 days ago in support of guerrilla demands for a free hand to conduct military operations against Israel from Lebanese territory.
At least one guerrilla demand was fulfilled today when Palestinian commandos seized virtual control of 14 of the 15 Arab refugee camps in Lebanon. The camps are operated by the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) and Lebanese authorities. The latter were ousted as armed guerrillas took over camp authority and police duties. Palestinian commando flags flew side-by-side with Lebanese flags. The 15 camps in Lebanon officially hold 170,000 refugees but are inhabited by many more who are unregistered. The commandos refrained from taking over only the smallest camp. Mar
Elias, with 400 inhabitants, located in a Beirut suburb close to UNRWA headquarters. Operation of the camps and freedom of movement were two of the guerrilla demands that Lebanon reportedly accepted in Cairo. The refugees have been the most active supporters of the guerrillas and have participated in riots and demonstrations against Lebanese authorities.’ Two of the largest camps taken over were previously uninvolved and house only Christian Arabs. The camps are used by the guerrillas as military training grounds and recruiting centers.
The Syrian news agency Sana announced that the decision to re-open the Lebanese border was taken by the political bureau of the ruling Arab Socialist Baath Party, the highest authority in Syria. While ostensibly a conciliatory gesture toward President Charles Helou of Lebanon, the open borders will greatly facilitate the movement of Syrian arms and supplies to the guerrillas. It will also ease Lebanon’s economic burden. The country’s trade was hard hit when the border closure caused a logjam of ships in Beirut harbor waiting to unload.