Behind the Headlines New Twists in Lebanon

The complex situation in Lebanon continues to take new twists. The poor showing to date of the Syrian army against Lebanese leftists and Palestinian terrorists is arousing bitterness in the Syrian officers’ corps toward President Hafez Assad. They are beginning to accuse him of a “no win” policy. At the same time. Israeli circles are concerned that the terrorists, primarily of El Futah, may view their success against the sluggish Syrian drive as proof that they are capable of taking on a regular army. This could lead them to undertake holder incursions against Israel once the Lebanese conflict is settled, circles here say.

Assad’s Lebanese adventure is, indeed, costing him a high price in blood and prestige. Under severe pressure from other Arab states not to go down in history as the “butcher of the Palestinians.” he has ordered the Syrian forces to avoid direct confrontation with leftists and terrorist groups. The latter are under no restraints to go easy on the Syrian invaders.

SYRIAN FORCES THINNED ON TWO FRONTS

Syria has suffered several hundred casualties in the past few weeks and has lost scores of tanks to the leftists and Palestinians. Hardest hit are units of the Syrian-sponsored Al Saiqa terrorists and the Palestine Liberation Army battalions fighting on the Syrian side. According to some reports. Al Saiqa is all but decimated and many of its units have deserted and joined the leftists.

Disgruntled Syrian army officers blame Assad for handicapping the movement of his army in Lebanon. Moreover, the reverses suffered by Damascus in Lebanon through its strategy of piecemeal penetration, has forced Assad to pull troops away from his poorly defended border with Iraq and from the Golan Heights front. The Iraqis meanwhile, have massed troops on the Syrian border.

The recent approach by Syrian forces to the perimeter of the so-called Fatahland, the former terrorist stronghold in southeastern Lebanon adjacent to Israel, was viewed by Israeli observers not as a threat to Israel but a large-scale detour to avoid a direct clash with El Fatah. The Syrians took over the Rashiyah-al-Wadi road junction which opened the way for a move southward to the Israeli border. But their intent obviously is to supply their beleaguered forces around the Lebanese port of Sidon. The Syrians have been unable to capture any of their major targets–neither Sidon, Tripoli nor Beirut itself.

ISRAEL GIVING MEDICAL AID TO REFUGEES

Meanwhile, Lebanese civilians are continuing to cluster along the Israeli border seeking medical attention. An opening has been cut in the perimeter fence large enough for one person at a time to go through. Women and children have been coming in increasing numbers for treatment by Israeli medics. Some of them sustained bullet wounds or other injuries in the fighting. Others are suffering from a variety of ailments. Those who are ambulatory are usually given free medication to take home with them. Serious cases are moved to Israeli hospitals. A 37-year-old mother of five, Louka Saadi, died at the Safad Hospital Monday of a malignant tumor. Her body has been returned to her family in Lebanon.

Israel, in freely dispensing this medical aid, is abiding by the pleas of the refugees not to publish their photographs or their names. They fear they will be murdered by terrorists for collaborating with Israel when they return to their homes.

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