JERUSALEM (Jun. 28)
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said today that Israel wants to secure the evacuation of Palestine Liberation Organization forces from west Beirut “without shedding another drop at blood.” He suggested that they might be removed to Egypt by sea.
Sharon addressed reporters after appearances yesterday and today before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee where he encountered sharp questioning from members of the opposition Labor Party on Israel’s war aims in Lebanon and its conduct of the war. He told the media Israel would gladly welcome the dispatch of ships from Egypt to evacuate the PLO but he said he could not confirm news reports that five ships have already left Alexandria for Beirut for that purpose.
He cited yesterday’s Cabinet offer of safe conduct to the PLO out of Beirut and out of Lebanon if they first surrendered their arms to the Lebanese army. He said Israel offered them a safe and honorable exit “to any Arab country.” The Cabinet statement said “The departing columns of terrorists under the protection of the International Red Cross, will move across the international Lebanese-Syrian border,” indicating they should go to Syria.
CLOSE TO ACHIEVING GOALS
Sharon disclosed that Israel turned down a PLO request several days ago to allow women to leave west Beirut. Israel insisted that all PLO members, men and women, leave the city. “It all depends on the PLO now. They must know they have no chance. They are surrounded,” Sharon said.
He told the Knesset committee today that Israel was “very close” to achieving its goals in Lebanon but denied that those goals had been expanded without the Cabinet’s consent to include the establishment of a new government in Lebanon and the ouster of Syrian forces from Lebanon.
He said the latter goals, while they would be welcomed by Israel, were subsidiary and Israel had not gone to war to achieve them.
He insisted that Israel’s main goal was and remains the destruction of the PLO in Lebanon. He also claimed he had never recommended to the Cabinet that the Israel army enter west Beirut, not because he thought it would be rejected but because he still hoped it was possible to oust the PLO from the city without a direct military assault.
Sharon angrily denied the charge by former Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur, a Labor MK, that he has been conducting a “one man war. ” He said the Israel army could not have halted its advance after achieving a terrorist-free zone 40 kilometers north of Israel’s border because of military and topographical conditions.
The debate over the war in Lebanon shifts to the Knesset plenum tomorrow. Sharon will lead it off with a statement on behalf of the government. Premier Menachem Begin will deliver the closing statement after all factions express their views.