JERUSALEM (Apr. 19)
Israel made it clear today that its response to events in south Lebanon will be determined by its security needs. This was stated in a message sent by Premier Menachem Begin today to United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Early this week, Waldheim sent a cable to Begin in which he charged that Israel was Inciting Christians in south Lebanon not to permit the entry of a Lebanese army battalion into the region.
Begin stated in his reply that in light of new terrorist activities by the Palestine Liberation Organization in south Lebanon and on upsurge of terrorist incidents inside Israel, it was imperative that Israel take all necessary measures to maintain the security of its northern borders. He stressed that Israel was not attempting to influence the Christians and that the steps taken by Mai. Sood Haddad, commander of the Christian militia, were taken independently, in accordance with what Haddad thought was best for the Christian community.
Yesterday, Haddad declared the 350-square mile region of south Lebanon along the Israel border a “free Lebanon.” He said it would refuse to recognize the authority of the central government in Beirut until all Palestinians and Syrian forces were removed from Lebanese territory. The Christians have used armed force to block the advance of the 500-man Lebanese battalion which they, contend is a pro-Syrian unit commanded by Syrian officers disguised in Lebanese uniforms.
FIGHTING IN SOUTH LEBANON
Christian artillery shelled the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) early today, wounding eight UN soldiers. A UN spokesman said later that “the Israel army intervened after about an hour to stop the attack.” The wounded soldiers were identified as two Dutch captains and six Irish troopers.
In another incident, a Christian militiaman laying telephone wire was killed by UNIFIL soldiers who thought he was planting mines. Enraged by the killing Christian villagers fired on UNIFIL headquarters at Nakura wounding several United Nations personnel. UNIFIL said two of its helicopters were hit.
Shelling became generalized during the day when Palestinian terrorists fired several salvoes of Katyusha rockets into eastern and western Galilee. One Israeli settler was injured and a chicken coop and sheds in a moshav were damaged. Israeli artillery returned the fire, but only perfunctorily. An officer explained that the restraint was deliberate because the Lebanese battalion, escorted by UNIFIL troops was in the area at the time. Israelis, who took to bomb shelters during the day, emerged in the evening when the border region was quiet.
Meanwhile, the Beirut government denounced Haddad as a traitor and said he would be tried for revolt and collaboration with the enemy, the penalty for which is death.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS ASSESSED
Begin met with his ministerial defense committee this morning, including Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, to discuss the latest developments in Lebanon. Diplomatic circles here noted afterwards that Moddad’s declaration of a “free Lebanon” was made without Israel’s knowledge and that Israel would not interfere in internal matters north of its border.
On the other hand, Israel has aided and supported the Christian militia and has pledged to protect the Christian minority from annihilation. This obligation is still valid, sources here said today, but Israel will not intervene in matters that do not endanger the existence of the Christian communities. Israel’s position is that it will not oppose the suspect Lebanese battalion’s deployment in the areas south of the Litani River under UNIFIL control but would oppose its entry into the Christian enclaves. Israel’s position was conveyed to Haddad by Weizman who asked the Christian commander to accept it. Haddad and most of his men apparently did but some militia units continued their attempts to block the battalion’s advance into the south.
Haddad mode it clear yesterday that his proclamation of a free Lebanese republic in his territory did not envisage a permanent separatist state. “Lebanon is our country and Beirut is its capital” he said. But he demanded the ouster of the Palestinians and Syrians from the country.