Tel Aviv (Mar. 19)
Israel and Maj. Saad Haddad, commander of the Christian militia, acted today to defuse the situation in south Lebanon where quiet prevailed but the atmosphere remained tense. Haddad’s gesture was to free a Lebanese army officer his forces had captured earlier in the week but at the some time he warned the Beirut government to keep its army out of the southern region that he controls.
Israel sent notes to the U.S. government and to the various governments contributing soldiers to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stressing that Israel was not interested in escalating tension in south Lebanon and was trying to restrain Haddad whose artillery inflicted casualties on UNIFIL soldiers Monday.
But the Israelis said they did not have complete control over the Christian commander. Haddad said in a letter to the Lebanese army chief of staff that the army would do better to maintain order in Beirut and replace the Syrian-led Arab peacekeeping force deployed in most of Lebanon than to move into the south. He confirmed to reporters that he received a letter from Premier Menachem Begin urging him to exercise “restraint.” But he said the letter was “unclear” and he did not know exactly what Begin wanted of him.
According to Haddad, the Lebanese army units had provoked trouble in the south. He noted that Israel always reacted by military means when terrorists shelled its villages, implying that he had the same right when the Lebanese army interfered with him.
Meanwhile, Gen. William Callaghan, commander of UNIFIL, denied today that he had made any demands at his meeting with the Israeli commander on the northern front, Gen. Avigdor Ben-Gal yesterday. But an Israeli army communique referred to “demands” and said they were “rejected on the spot.”