WASHINGTON (Aug. 1)
Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon charged today that the Palestine Liberation Organization was trying to gain “diplomatic immunity” in west Beirut by moving their tanks and artillery near embassies.
Appearing on ABC-TV’s “This Week with David Brinkley” program, Sharon displayed a photograph which showed PLO tanks close to embassies, including one 30 meters from the U.S. Embassy. He showed an earlier photo which depicted tanks and artillery placed in the middle of residential areas.
Sharon said that Israel hoped the cease-fire that went into effect today holds as long as possible. He said that Israel always wanted to maintain the cease-fire but the PLO had broken it each time.
The Defense Minister said that Beirut International Airport, which had been a no-man’s land, was taken over by the Israeli forces today because the PLO had been using this airport to fire on Israeli troops causing casualties. He denied that the takeover of the airport was the beginning of a “salami” tactic to seize all of west Beirut.
Sharon said that Israel hopes the efforts by President Reagan’s special envoy Philip Habib to negotiate a removal of the PLO terrorists from west Beirut will succeed. But he said it “cannot be unlimited time” and Israel will not accept a “war of attrition.”
In addition, Sharon said that “everyone who believes in peace “in the Middle East must make an effort to “be very firm and not let the terrorists get away, not let them gain time.” He said the Lebanese situation has created the opportunity for a “new era” which he said would be a “triangle of peace — Jerusalem, Cairo and Lebanon.”
Sharon denied Israel had made a mistake by not going into west Beirut from the beginning since the PLO has gained political advantage during the past few weeks. He said that Israel from the start of the “Peace for Galilee” operation has tried to prevent civilian casualties by avoiding possible attacks on built-up areas.
The Defense Minister said he agreed with criticism by American Jews that the media has “unfairly reported” the Israeli operation in Lebanon. He said there has been no reporting of the occupation by Syria of two-thirds of Lebanon since 1976, an occupation that continues; nor was there, he said, reporting of the fighting between PLO and Christians over the last seven years which he said caused more than 100,000 deaths and 300,000 wounded.