JERUSALEM (Jun. 16)
Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan yesterday dismissed reports that some 10,000 civilian dead resulted from the Israeli action in Lebanon with up to 600,000 left homeless. Briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee which toured the battle zones in the east, Eitan said such figures were enormously inflated. There were not 600,000 civilians living in the entire area taken by the Israeli army, he noted.
Eitan clashed sharply with Labor dove Yossi Sarid over the question of casualty figures and over the extent to which the army had tried to avoid hitting civilians. Eitan insisted that the Israeli Army had gone out of its way, often at direct risk to its own men, to minimize casualties among noncombatants.
It was simply untrue that Tyre and Sidon had been razed, Eitan continued. Only specific areas which housed Palestine Liberation Organization positions and arms dumps had been bombarded, he said. The army had warned citizens to leave the towns and stay on the beaches during the attacks, and a great many had indeed done so and had come to no harm.
Eitan said PLO chief Yasir Arafat had sought and received asylum at the Soviet Embassy in Beirut. Subsequent reports in the media here say Arafat has returned to his forces in Beirut.
Reporting on the battles, the Chief of Staff noted that no Israeli servicemen in the new Merkava tank had been killed and this was thanks to crew protection equipment built into these tanks. Israel has said its Merkavas knocked out nine Soviet super modern tanks.