TEL AVIV (Jun. 14)
Israeli forces captured Beirut international airport at dawn today and seized a crossroad at Khalde south of Beirut, effectively surrounding Palestinian forces still in the city. Palestinian resistance was expected to end shortly. According to the Israelis, it was the Palestinians who broke a cease-fire they had requested through President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, which led to the intensification of fighting in Lebanon during the past 24 hours.
The Israelis have linked up with Christian military forces and some Lebanese army officers in the Beirut suburbs. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and a party of his senior aides visited the forward area last night to confer with the Christian leaders who have long been Israel’s allies in opposition to the Palestine Liberation Organization and their leftist Moslem supporters.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who flew to Paris today on an official visit, said before his departure from Ben Gurion Airport that Israel has no intention of dictating what kind of government Lebanon should have in the future. “God forbid. We have no interest or desire to dictate anything to anybody. We are concerned solely with Israel’s security,” Shamir said.
He said his trip to France, at the invitation of Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, was to explain to French leaders Israel’s reasons for undertaking what it calls the “Peace for Galilee” operation. President Francois Mitterrand has strongly condemned Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Shamir said, “I know that France has a certain interest in Lebanon’s fate. I don’t know exactly what France’s proposal or plans are on this subject, but I think that when I meet with French government representatives, I will know more and we will be able to exchange views.”
With respect to the continued fighting in Lebanon, the Foreign Minister said “We are in the last stage of this operation. Of our own free will and initiative we declared a cease-fire. Even if there are elements which are not keeping this cease-fire we, for our part, are striving as much as possible to limit fire so as to bring about a swift and total end to military action.”
The army meanwhile has maintained almost complete silence on operations in Lebanon and the Israeli media must depend on foreign reports, especially Beirut radio for information. The Israel Editors Committee has protested the official blackout of information and accused the government of using the “fog of war” to keep the public in the dark as to what is happening in Lebanon.
Israeli newspapers have also complained that the army has withheld the extent of Israeli casualties in the Lebanese fighting. Their own estimate is that about 130 Israeli soldiers were killed as of yesterday. The official figure is 107. An army spokesman indicated that no further casualty lists will be published until the fighting ends.
Sharon said in a radio interview today that Israeli forces seized the Beirut airport and other positions it now holds in order to bar the escape of PLO forces from Beirut and prevent Syrian re-enforcements from reaching them. He said that although the main Beirut-Damascus highway is blocked, U.S. special envoy Philip Habib would have no trouble shuttling between the two cities on his peace-making mission. “We are blocking the road to military supplies but not to friendly civilian movement,” Sharon said.
He confirmed that he had visited the Beirut suburbs last night to meet with local Lebanese commanders and police and the Mayor of Ba’abda village which Israeli forces had captured earlier in the day. He said he had asked the Lebanese officers to put part of their headquarters at the disposal of Israeli troops. Sharon said that while PLO headquarters have been destroyed, PLO commanders might have escaped and could still operate. But the PLO is completely shut off from the world and can no longer control “international terrorism” Sharon said.
SOLDIER SAYS IT’S UP TO POLITICIANS
Israel Radio quoted a senior officer in charge of operations in the Beirut suburbs as saying that “the fighting has, in effect, ended. It’s now up to the politicians.”
Life was reported to be returning to near normal in Sidon, where some 100,000 residents remain with another 100,000 expected to return within the coming days. The military governor of the town said it was hoped to restore electricity within two weeks. Food and water was being supplied to the residents from PLO and guerrilla stocks found in the town.
In the central sector, also, shops were beginning to reopen and farmers were again bringing vegetables and produce to local markets.