JERUSALEM (Aug. 4)
An army spokesman asserted today that the heavy fighting going on in Beirut since before midnight last night was not the long-anticipated all-out assault on west Beirut, or even an attempt to split the Lebanese capital into sectors with PLO groups isolated in each.
An army communique said the attack has been launched “in view of the repeated cease-fire violations in recent days.” It cited, among other violations, “attempted infiltrations of a terrorist squad into the airport area (which Israel had captured Monday), sniping, bazooka rocket and artillery fire.” The communique added that the Israel Defense Force had “accordingly tightened its siege on the city of Beirut, improving its positions in the airport and Beirut race track areas.”
The army spokesman said that 20 soldiers had been wounded in the fighting last night and this morning, two of them seriously. He emphasized that the IDF’s forward movement “is not the all-out attack to conquer the city. The dominating positions taken by our forces in the area north of the airport and in the Hippodrome area will obstruct terrorist fire at our forces.”
ISRAEL WON’T ‘PLAY THE GAME BY THE PLO RULES’
A government official, emphasizing that the latest development was sparked by the PLO’s violation of the cease-fire yesterday afternoon, said Israel would not “play the game by the PLO rules.” Israel would choose the means and the scope of its response, he said, adding: “This excludes any standard pattern.” He noted that had Israel wanted to act arbitrarily, the IDF could have moved in west Beirut last June.
The official also made it clear that Israel wants the civilian population out of west Beirut to avoid civilian casualties. The PLO, he said, is hiding behind the “civilian screen,” believing that as long as civilians are there, Israel would have difficulty moving in. With civilians gone, the PLO knows Israel will attack without any hesitations, the official said. “We are trying to create conditions that will make the PLO understand that their options are reduced to one–to leave Lebanon,” he said.
Israel’s view is that the PLO has a special interest in violating the cease-fire. The Israeli response leads to an anti-Israeli public opinion and the fighting also delays diplomatic efforts to get the 5,000 to 6,000 PLO men out of Beirut and Lebanon, the official explained. The PLO apparently feels that time is still working in its favor, he added. “We absorbed as much as we could, but it didn’t help,” he pointed out. “So now we have to show them that their game is very costly.”
In the fighting that started last night, the terrorists blew up a large ammunition dump in the racetrack area to prevent it from falling into the hands of Israeli soldiers advancing from the Lebanese National Museum area, which had been one of three crossing points across the “Green Line” separating the Christian from the Moslem areas of the capital.
While a second Israeli column was reportedly moving north from the airport area, a third thrust was said to be in progress southwards from the port area in the north. The large Bourg el-Barajne refugee camp area, now abandoned by its civilian residents, was reportedly largely cut off by the advancing Israeli forces.