JERUSALEM (Aug. 1)
Israeli air, land and naval forces struck Palestinian targets in west Beirut today in one of the most violent battles in the area since the start of “Operation Peace for Galilee” on June 6. While the Air Force bombarded Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters inside west Beirut, ground forces went into operation around the Beirut airport area and naval forces fired at terrorist targets along Beirut’s seashore.
Terrorists fired missiles into the Christian areas to the east and the north of the city, causing considerable damage and many casualties. An Israeli army spokesman said that nine soldiers had been wounded in the fighting during the day. This evening, a new cease-fire, the ninth since June 6, went into effect.
According to reports from inside west Beirut, broadcast by Radio Free Lebanon, Israeli tanks advanced to the airport terminal area, about two kilometers ahead of their previous position, bringing the entire airport runway under complete Israeli control. The runway had previously been within the Israeli army’s artillery and the tank fire range.
Today’s action by Israeli farces was in response to the break in the cease-fire last Friday by Palestinian forces which shelled Israeli and Lebanese Christian positions. Israeli forces did not immediately respond Friday but held their fire for a number of hours. But Israel then decided that a ceasefire could not be one-sided, and struck back. Political sources in Jerusalem said today that Israel had made clear from the outset that when it agreed to a cease-fire, it had to be mutual and total.
NO DECISION TO ENTER THE CITY
In spite of today’s pounding of terrorist positions, the Cabinet termed the action in west Beirut “a local action” in response to the terrorists breaking the cease-fire. No decision was taken by the Cabinet at its meeting today to enter west Beirut. But Premier Menachem Begin reiterated that Israel would adhere to a renewed cease-fire only if it was total and mutual and asked Ambassador Moshe Arens in Washington to inform the U.S. government that Israel was willing to accept a cease-fire in Lebanon subject to that condition.
Political sources in Jerusalem said today that despite the renewed fighting, the diplomatic effort of special U.S. envoy Philip Habib was continuing. Last Thursday, following the conference of the Arab League in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, the PLO gave the impression that they were willing to evacuate west Beirut “in principle.”
A six-point plan adopted at the Jiddah meeting called for the PLO to move its armed forces from Beirut; for removal of the Israeli siege of Beirut through a pullback of its forces; for the Lebanese government to guarantee the safety of all residents of Beirut, including the Palestinians; for a multinational peace force to participate in assuring the security of Beirut; and for the Arab states to help Lebanon take the necessary actions to implement United Nations Security Council Resolutions 508 and 509. The PLO was understood to have acceded to intense pressure by the United States via Moslem intermediaries in Beirut and by the Saudis.
PLAN SEEN AS FOOT-DRAGGING
However, political sources in Jerusalem noted that the six-point plan, as phrased by the Secretary General of the Arab League, left much room for the PLO to drag its feet. It did not specifically state when the PLO forces were to leave west Beirut and linked the evacuation to guarantees to be worked out between the PLO and the Lebanese government. PLO chief Yasir Arafat reportedly told the Lebanese Friday that his organization would need a month to evacuate west Beirut. It is doubtful whether Israel is willing to wait that long.
But Israel’s maneuverability in this situation appears to be limited. Despite Israeli denials, it seems that the U.S. has specifically warned Israel against invading west Beirut.
Before leaving for the U.S., Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who is to visit Washington tomorrow and Tuesday, said there was a basic agreement with the U.S. over the fundamental goals of the war in Lebanon, but there were differences regarding the intensity of the bombing, and the suspension of water and electricity supply to Beirut. Shamir said Israel had no interest in intensifying the war, and it was only responding to violations of the cease-fires by the terrorists.
CABINET DISCUSSES PROBLEM OF REFUGEES
The Cabinet, at its meeting today, discussed, apparently for the first time, the problem of the tens of thousands of refugees in Lebanon, mostly Palestinian. Following the meeting, the Cabinet issued a statement, saying that “the government is of the view that measures should begin through the Lebanese government to provide accommodation for refugees in Lebanon, in preparation for the winter months.”
The Cabinet decided to establish a ministerial committee, headed by Mordechai Ben-Porat, to elaborate principles, ways and means, for the solution of the refugee problem “through their re-settlement.”