JERUSALEM (Jun. 15)
U.S. special envoy Philip Habib was in Beirut today trying to cement a lasting cease-fire to forestall a feared Israeli assault on Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters in the heart of the city. According to the latest reports, fighting flared anew this evening after Israel reported its troops were being fired on by PLO and Syrian forces from Beirut. Israel said it returned the fire.
The report was the first of hostilities between Israeli and Syrian forces since the Syrians agreed to a cease-fire last Friday. A report from Damascus today said Syria rejected an Israeli demand to pull its troops out of Beirut.
An Israeli army spokesman said the shooting began shortly after 6 p.m. local time. He said Syrian and PLO forces opened tank fire from inside Beirut on Israeli forces camped east of the international airport which lies just south of the Lebanese capital.
According to reports from Beirut, most of the Israeli forces were stationed in Ba’abda village, a Beirut suburb near the Presidential Palace but left those positions for a point further east along the Beirut-Damascus highway where Syrian forces were said to have fortified new positions.
LEBANESE SEEK NATIONAL BODY
The spokesman said Israeli troops had completed mopping up operations in the Khilwei refugee camp near Sidan which the PLO turned into a stronghold. The Israeli army shut down the Palestinian hospital in Sidan and ousted a number of foreign doctors who allegedly sheltered terrorists in the guise of patients.
While Habib’s efforts were underway, Lebanese leaders were attempting to create some sort of national body as a precursor to a new, independent government in Beirut. So far, President Elias Sarkis has been unable to establish a representative National Salvation Council. Three of the more important candidates for membership in that body failed to show up for a meeting today.
The main problem is the refusal of Walid Junblatt, leader of the leftist National Lebanese Movement, to participate in the Council. Junblatt, who heads Lebanon’s large Druze community, is regarded as a supporter of the PLO and Syria. Without him, there can be no representation in any national body of the Druze or pro-Syrian Lebanese.
Junblatt’s position was seen as an indication of the difficulty of reaching any long term solution in Lebanon opposed by the Syrians. Nevertheless, the initiative by Sarkis in face of apparent Syrian opposition was viewed as a major political change in the country. Observers noted that prior to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Sarkis would not have dared take such action without first consulting Damascus.