TEL AVIV (Jul. 19)
Defense Minister Shimon Peres confirmed today that a brisk, unofficial trade has developed between Israel and Lebanese villagers who come to the breaks in the border fence to buy, sell and barter while a bitter civil war rages in most of the rest of their country.
Peres, who visited the gaps in the security fence, said that Lebanese are purchasing Israeli foodstuffs and are permitted to market their farm products, mostly tobacco, across the border. Israelis accept Lebanese currency for some goods and in other cases, the Lebanese exchange their tobacco crops for tractor spare parts and other items obtainable only in Israel.
LEBANESE TREATED AT ISRAELI CLINICS
Peres expressed hope that this trade would continue to develop into the large-scale two-way commerce that has been conducted for years across the Jordan River bridges. But the majority of Lebanese coming to Israel do so for medical reasons. Israeli clinics in Metullah and Donev, near the border, have treated about 2800 Lebanese citizens in recent months.
They were established specifically for the benefit of Lebanese who were deprived of medical attention in their own country because of the civil war. Some Lebanese patients have been treated in hospitals in Safad, Poria and as far from the border as Haifa.
Originally, Israel offered medical treatment to Lebanese civilians who sustained wounds in the fighting but most of the patients now crossing the border come for treatment of various ailments and non-war related injuries, for medical advice and for medications which Israeli doctors provide free of charge. The Lebanese come at some risk.
Peres said he talked with a number of them who told him the terrorist radio in Beirut branded as traitors any Lebanese seeking medical help from Israel. They and their families are threatened by terrorist agitators who promised to provide doctors and ambulances to isolated villages but these never materialized, the refugees reported. Some villagers who have come to Israel from as far as Beirut reported that once they crossed the Litani River into southeastern Lebanon there were no signs of war. Lebanese farmers continue to tend their crops near the Israeli border undisturbed.
Israel has also helped alleviate the serious water shortage in southern Lebanon by extending the pipeline across the border. Lebanese farmers now have water for themselves, their live-stock and for irrigation purposes.
CHAOTIC SITUATION IN LEBANON
The military and political situation inside Lebanon remains chaotic. Peres said Lebanese Christians now hold the northern half of the country and the greater part of Beirut. The Moslems and terrorists are in retreat, he said. Syria appears to be trying to annex part of Lebanon, the Defense Minister said. He stressed, however, that Israel will not intervene in Lebanon because the events in that country are still an internal affair which Israel regrets but in which it will not interfere.