JERUSALEM (Aug. 8)
Premier Menachem Begin accepted a proposal today that a projected international force would move into west Beirut, as part of a plan to get the PLO forces out of the city and then out of Lebanon altogether, after most but not necessarily all of the terrorists withdraw, it was reported by Israel Radio. The proposal had been put forward several days ago by U.S special envoy Philip Habib.
Begin’s action came shortly after he told the Cabinet meeting that he had received “an important letter” from U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz on developments in Lebanon. The details of Shultz’s letter were not made available.
According to Israel Radio, Begin left the Cabinet session while it was still in progress to draft his reply to Shultz, apparently with Cabinet approval, to ensure its dispatch and arrival in Washington before Habib had time to make any further suggestions in his meetings this afternoon with French, American and Lebanese officials in Beirut to discuss details of the proposed international force and the timing of its deployment.
FRANCE, ITALY READY WITH TROOPS
Reports from Paris today said two regiments of crack paratroopers were on stand-by orders to go to Beirut to supervise the evacuation of PLO forces. Reports from Rome said the Italian government also agreed to send a mechanized battalion to join the French regiments. Both governments said they would give the go ahead signal for their troops to enter Beirut only if all the parties agree to the latest proposal by Habib.
Israel had originally insisted that the international force enter Beirut only after all the terrorists had left. But PLO leaders had demanded that the force move in before any PLO fighters left to ensure their safety from Israeli attack during the evacuation. Begin reportedly stressed in his reply to Shultz that Israel could not accept any unilateral moves, especially by the French whose stance at the United Nations Security Council last Friday has left Israeli officials aghast. (Related story. P.2).
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Ministry Director General David Kimche left for Beirut after the Cabinet meeting to confer with Habib on the latest developments.
CABINET NOT UNANIMOUS ON BEIRUT SITUATION
The Cabinet, at its meeting today, was reportedly divided in its assessment of the present situation in Beirut. According to reports, some ministers were “cautiously optimistic” that the PLO will leave Beirut, others, led by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, fear a trap.
The feelings were prompted by reports from Beirut that the PLO may begin leaving the besieged city “by the middle” of this week. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saeb Salam, a key negotiator in the effort to evacuate the PLO from Beirut, told reporters yesterday that Syrian President Hafez Assad finally agreed to accept the PLO forces after me PLO formally asked him to do so in writing. This removed a major obstacle blocking the evacuation of the PLO.
Another mediator, Lebanese Prime Minister Shafig Wazzan, said after meeting with Habib yesterday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that the PLO would begin to withdraw within a few days. He also said that Habib was “completely satisfied with the positive responses” from the PLO to clarifications the envoy has sought on the issue of withdrawal.
The PLO’s proposal was relayed to Israeli officials in Jerusalem yesterday Responding to the proposal, one senior official was quoted as saying, “For the first time we could say that there may be something here after all.” But Israeli officials emphasized that Israel remains skeptical of PLO intentions because the proposal did not contain a specific time-table for withdrawal, which Israel has demanded.
Sharon’s supporters in the Cabinet, who decline to be identified by name or affiliation but hide behind the description as “authoritative sources,” claim that Habib has misled Israel, and possibly the U.S. State Department as well, by over-optimistic appreciations of the situation. Some of Sharon’s critics claim he does not want the PLO to leave Beirut, preferring an all-out assault on them in west Beirut to wipe them out and prevent a rebirth of the PLO movement outside Beirut or outside Lebanon.
BEIRUT IS ‘RELATIVELY QUIET’
Meanwhile, Beirut was today reported to be “relatively quiet” with only a few rockets and shells fired by the PLO at Israeli forces and Lebanese civilians in the eastern part of the city. Water was restored to the western sector of the city after a break of three weeks during which the Israeli forces had closed the taps.
This afternoon, an Israeli army tank and armored personnel carrier column advanced some nine miles north of Beirut to occupy the port area of the Christian resort city of Junieh. The move was designed to prevent the landing of any contingent of an international force. The port of Junieh is the only harbor since the Israelis closed the port of Beirut. But according to reports from both cities, the Israeli force left Junieh this evening.
CABINET REJECTED UN OBSERVERS
Last Thursday the Cabinet held a five-hour emergency night session and rejected a demand by the United Nations Security Council that UN observers be stationed in and around west Beirut to monitor the cease-fire situation. The Cabinet also rejected calls, including one by President Reagan, for Israel to withdraw its troops to the lines of last Sunday, before the Israel Defense Force advanced in west Beirut. The U.S. repeated its demand for a pull-back on Friday.
Thus, despite mounting American pressure on Israel, the Cabinet stuck to its previous policy of tightening the encirclement of Beirut while allowing Habib “another opportunity” to pursue his mission through diplomatic means.
As the Cabinet was meeting Thursday night several thousand people demonstrated in front of the Premier’s office against the continued fighting in Beirut. The demonstration was organized by the Peace Now movement. Demonstrators carried placards reading, “We don’t want to die in Lebanon,” “Sharon, go home,” and “There is no consensus.”
On Friday, 19 Israeli soldiers who had been killed Wednesday in afirce battle with PLO forces in Beirut were buried. Since the war in Lebanon began June 6, Israel has listed 318 soldiers killed and more than 1,500 wounded. The brunt of the casualties have been borne by young men, aged 19-21.