JERUSALEM (Jun. 17)
A Cabinet majority decided last night that Israeli troops will not enter Beirut where a Palestine Liberation Organization force estimated at 6000 is holding out without means of escape. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said the decision was taken because of possible wider ramification should Israeli soldiers “enter an Arab capital.”
He said in a television interview that he was among the minority of ministers who did not support the decision but he would abide fully by it. He said Israel now hoped and assumed “that the Lebanese will find a way to have PLO lay down their arms.”
An army spokesman said today that PLO forces in west Beirut fired large numbers of Katyusha rockets at Israeli forces dug in south of the international airport and at Khalde village, east of Beirut. He said Israeli forces returned the fire but gave no details. The spokesman denied foreign media reports that machinegun and artillery fire in Beirut last night and this morning involved Israeli soldiers.
Israeli forces are not in Beirut itself and any shooting was between the PLO and the Christian Phalangists, the spokesman said. The Phalangists are armed and supported by Israel. According to the spokesman, PLO fire from Beirut damaged several civilian aircraft parked at Beirut airport, one of them bearing the markings of an American air line.
NO INTERFERENCE IN LEBANESE POLITICS
Sharon said Israel “would not interfere” in whatever political solution emerged now in Lebanon but was obviously “interested” in the nature of the solution. “A lot will depend on the U.S.” he said. He said Israel’s military operation in Lebanon had provided “a golden opportunity” for the Lebanese to restore their sovereignty and full independence. All Israel wants is the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, including the Syrians, Sharon said.
Sharon confirmed that the Soviets were flying considerable equipment into Syria to replace the severe losses sustained by Syrian forces in clashes with Israeli forces during the fighting in Lebanon last week. He said he preferred not to speak of a Russian “air lift” and counselled “cool-headedness” on Israel’s part. “Of course, we do not treat the Soviet angle lightly,” he said.
Asked about reported Soviet naval movements in the Mediterranean, Sharon said there were also American naval movements. He maintained that the U.S. was not “surprised” by Israel’s invasion of Lebanon June 5, although the Americans did not know the exact timing. He claimed that Washington has “begun to understand” the dangers posed to Israel by the PLO in Lebanon and that accounted for their “mild reaction” to the Israeli operation.
Sharon justified Israel’s push far beyond the 40 kilometer (25 mile) zone said to have been its original objective in Lebanon on grounds that it was a “tactical ploy to attack from behind and thereby save lives that would have been lost in a frontal assault.” He also claimed it was vital for Israel to control the Beirut-Damascus highway as a “bargaining counter” in the “tough diplomatic moves” that are to come.