TEL AVIV (Sep. 12)
The population of southern Lebanon is becoming increasingly dependent on Israel for commerce, law enforcement and social services since the authority of the central government in Beirut has virtually disappeared. The population of southern Lebanon, moreover, is being swollen by a steady influx of refugees from the war-torn north.
Trading between Lebanese and Israelis over the border fence has been growing in recent months. Lately, however, Maronite Christians in southern Lebanon have complained to the Israeli army that shrewd Lebanese merchants have been selling Israel-made goods in the north where they bring higher prices. This leaves the southern villages without many needed commodities. A Maronite priest accused the merchants of profiteering and urged the Israelis to put a stop to what he called an abuse of their good will.
Southern Lebanese are also trying to prevail upon Israel to extend to them the same social welfare payments given Arabs in the Israel-administered territories. They have asked Israel to extend its telephone lines into southern Lebanese villages so that the Lebanese can contact Israeli merchants, hospitals where their relatives are being treated and relations in the U.S. and Europe.
OMINOUS REPORTS CITED
While these developments are welcomed by Israel, there have been ominous reports recently that the break-away Lebanese Army (LAA) is building a civilian and military airstrip some 15 kilometers north of the Israeli border with the help of Soviet technicians.
There has been no official confirmation of the airstrip located northwest of the Israeli border towns of Misgav Am and Kiryat Shemona. But heavy equipment, including tractors confiscated from Christian villagers, have been seen in that area. The airstrip is reportedly four kilometers long and is intended to handle cargo aircraft and Soviet-made MIG fighters. The LAA is said to be rushing it to completion before the rainy season sets in.