TEL AVIV (Feb. 5)
Israel is maintaining a close watch over Syrian troop movements in Lebanon but according to sources here they appear for the moment to be defensive and not a cause for immediate concern.
Syria’s 30,000-man “peacekeeping” force, in Lebanon under a mandate from the Arab League, has been spread thin. Accordingly, Damascus plans to pull its troops out of Beirut and other cities and concentrate them in the Boaga region of eastern Lebanon. Israeli sources said this move seems to have been planned for some time and was not precipitated by any external reasons.
The pull-back has been delayed, however, because the Lebanese authorities fear that the withdrawal could lead to a resumption of the civil war, particularly if the Syrian forces are replaced by the Syrian-sponsored Palestine Liberation Army (PLA). Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss of Lebanon flew to Damascus yesterday for urgent talks with President Hafez Assod and other top officials. He persuaded them to delay the pull-back until a suitable defensive arrangement can be worked out.
The Syrians have a mechanized division in the southern region of the Boaga valley and another division in the north. The basic concept of the deployment is defensive. But the Russian-type of defensive deployment adopted by the Syrian army can be changed quickly to an offensive springboard. The Syrian move has escalated tension between Christians and Moslems in Beirut and the Christians and Palestinian terrorists in south Lebanon.