JERUSALEM (Jul. 6)
Israeli sources said today that the next 48 hours would be “crucial” to negotiations for the departure of Palestine Liberation Organization forces from west Beirut. They gave that assessment following a meeting in Beirut yesterday between U.S. special envoy Philip Habib and Israel’s Defense Ministen-Ariel Sharon.
Israel radio said this morning that the U.S. and France have agreed to send military forces to Beirut to occupy positions now held by the PLO and to supervise the PLO’s evacuation from Lebanon.
The U.S. denied that any agreement has been reached, but according to White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes, President Reagan has agreed in principle to the participation of the American troops to help in the evacuation. However, according to reports from Los Angeles where Reagan was today as part of a working vacation in California, Speakes said the sending of U.S. troops would depend on agreement between Israel, the Lebanese government and the PLO. (See separate story.)
According to reports from Paris, sources indicated that French troops might participate in helping the PLO’s evacuation from Beirut. A French task force, reports said, might join U.S. troops in that undertaking. However, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson said today that no agreement has yet been reached and termed reports of French troop involvement as “premature.” (See separate story P.3).
The Israeli sources aid it should be clear by the end of this week whether the PLO is in fact ready to leave Beirut or whether it is stalling for time, as some Israeli policy-makers maintain, in the hope that France or some Arab countries would back its terms for withdrawal which Israel has rejected without reservations.
OPTIMISTIC PROGNOSIS OFFERED
David Kimche, Director General of the Foreign Ministry who accompanied Sharon at his meetings with Habib, was said to have brought back the “optimistic” prognosis on American mediation which persuaded the Cabinet to give Habib’s diplomatic efforts another week to bring results.
The Israeli army, meanwhile, continued to tighten its grip around Beirut. After a day of heavy tank, artillery and rocket exchanges with PLO forces, another cease-fire was called last night. PLO resistance was reportedly ineffective in halting the Israeli advance which was said to be deliberately slow. Israeli troops were reported moving foot-by-foot to within a few hundred yards of PLO strong-points. In some areas they took over positions held by Israel’s Christian Phalangist allies.
There was no confirmation today that Israeli armored personnel carriers had entered the Beirut port area or that they had sealed off the last remaining corridor between west and east Beirut.
A military spokesman announced today that four Israeli soldiers were wounded yesterday, three by PLO rocket fire near the Beirut airport and a fourth by a Syrian sniper east of Beirut.
U.S. URGING RESTRAINT
Israeli sources acknowledged today that Jerusalem was receiving messages from the U.S. urging restraint while Habib’s diplomatic negotiations continued. Officials here also confirmed that the U.S. supports the PLO demand for an “office” in Beirut after its fighting forces leave.
The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv refused to comment on a report in Haaretz today that the U.S. also supported the PLO demand for a token military presence in those areas of Lebanon still occupied by Syria. According to Haaretz, the U.S. envisages two units of 250 men each at least temporarily after the main body of the PLO departs the country. The units apparently would be attached to the Lebanese army.
Those terms were categorically rejected by the Cabinet Sunday. Israel also refuses to entertain the idea of a PLO political office in Lebanon. Eliahu Ben-Elissar, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee said today that such an office in Beirut would be “the nucleus of a new cancer.” According to Ben-Elissar, Israel has been more than generous in offering to allow the PLO to leave Lebanon under a safe conduct guarantee and with their personal weapons.