JERUSALEM (Aug. 19)
The Cabinet today officially approved the plan by United States special envoy Philip Habib for the evacuation of terrorist forces from Lebanon, thus paving the way for the departure of some 15,000 terrorists which could begin as early as this weekend.
The government of Lebanon, which approved the plan yesterday, followed Israel’s Cabinet approval by officially inviting the U.S., France and Italy to send their contingents into Lebanon to supervise the evacuation. It was not immediately clear whether the withdrawal of the terrorists would begin Saturday or Sunday. In Beirut, Premier Shafik Al-Wazan said jokingly: “We haven’t decided yet whether we will go by the Israeli or Lebanese weekend.”
Lebanese government sources said the U.S. and France would each contribute 800 soldiers to the international force, Italy will send 400 men, and there will be a Lebanese army contingent of some 3,000.
ASSURANCES CLEAR WAY FOR APPROVAL
The Israel Cabinet approved the agreement after it received assurances that the terrorists would release Air Force pilot Aharon Achiaz who had been captured in the early days of the war when his plane crashed, release the bodies of nine Israeli soldiers who had been killed in Lebanon, and return an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by PLO forces yesterday.
During the Cabinet session, the ministers received an elaborate 14-point plan for the terrorists to leave Lebanon. According to the schedule, the evacuation would last two weeks and the international force would remain in Lebanon for one month. It was understood that the first batch of PLO fighters would leave Beirut by sea, on the way to Aqaba. Later, groups will probably leave for Syria by the Beirut-Damascus highway. From there they would be dispersed to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and South Yemen.
The total number of PLO terrorists and their families is estimated at 7,100. Other evacuees include 1,000 non-Arab volunteers of various nationalities serving with the PLO; 3,500 men serving with the Palestine Liberation Army; and about 3,000 Syrian soldiers.
ELEMENTS OF THE PLAN
According to the authoritative Beirut newspaper An-Nahar, the 14-point plan for the evacuation of PLO and Syrian forces from west Beirut includes:
A complete cease-fire; a peaceful departure by timetable from Beirut; non-combatant Palestinians who remain in Lebanon will be subject to Lebanese laws; the International Red Cross will help in the evacuation; the evacuation will be complete in 15 days, it will take place in daylight, and the fighters will take with them their pistols and rifles; heavy weapons will be handed over to the Lebanese army; the international force will have a mandate of one month, and the Lebanese government may extend the mandate if it sees fit; if any clause of the plan proves impossible, the mandate will be considered to have lapsed.
Following the Cabinet session, Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor issued the following statement: “The government of Israel approved the draft arrangement concerning the evacuation from Beirut and Lebanon of all the terrorists, including their organizations, leadership, members, commands, and offices — a draft which was presented to the Cabinet by Ambassador Philip Habib. The government suggested several amendments to the draft and those were accepted by Ambassador Habib.”
Prior to the Cabinet session, Premier Menachem Begin conferred with Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign. Minister Yitzhak Shamir. The three decided to request several amendments to the draft.
They asked for the elimination of a passage which stated that United Nations observers who were stationed in the past in west Beirut would remain there according to a recent UN Security Council resolution which called for observers to monitor the evacuation. By eliminating that passage, the status of the observers will be that they remain in Beirut but will not play any role in the actual implementation of the evacuation plan.
Israel was also promised that efforts would be made, in cooperation with the International Red Cross, to locate the bodies of five soldiers killed in Lebanon during the Litani Operation five years ago.
SHARON: ‘A BASIC CHANGE IN THE MIDDLE EAST’
Sharon reportedly told the Cabinet that Israel was facing one of its greatest achievements, “a basic change in the Middle-East.” He enumerated them as the uprooting of the terrorists from Beirut, the evacuation of foreign forces from Lebanon, security arrangements on Israel’s border, the establishment of a stable government in Lebanon, and the removal of Soviet influence in the region.
The Defense Minister said a sharp warning had been sent to Damascus that Israel would hit back hard if terrorist operations would continue from behind Syrian lines. According to a senior official, near-jubilant Cabinet ministers described the eviction of the PLO from Beirut as a complete vindication of Israel’s “Peace in Galilee” operation despite international criticism.
Sharon told the Cabinet that relations with the U.S. have actually improved since the war in Lebanon began June 6. Before the war, he said, there were no common goals between Israel and the U.S. regarding Lebanon, whereas now “we have common goals, although there are differences about their implementation.”
Sharon made these comments after Interior Minister Yosef Burg said that only last Thursday the U.S. had sharply rebuked Israel following an II-hour bombardment of Beirut. He recalled that President Reagan had called Begin to express his “shock” and “outrage” at the bombing at a time when the negotiations for the evacuation had reached a critical point. Reagan told Begin that Habib could not negotiate under such circumstances and that a cease-fire had to be declared and maintained. Begin told Reagan that even as they were talking, Israel had declared a ceasefire.
Burg said that such a deterioration in the relations between Israel and the U.S. should be avoided in the future and that Israel should coordinate its actions with the U.S. regarding the next stages of development following the evacuation of the terrorist forces from Lebanon. Shamir said he shared Burg’s view.
Meanwhile, the election for a new President of Lebanon, which was to have taken place today, was postponed until Monday. The postponement followed intense pressure from Moslem and leftist Deputies to provide more time to find an alternative to Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel, the only Presidential candidate so far.
Opponents of the 34-year-old leader of the predominantly Maronite Christian Lebanese Front claim he is not a candidate likely to win the confidence of Lebanon’s diverse religious groups. He is also unpopular among the Moslems. He is considered a “collaborator” with Israel because the Phalangist Party’s military force received military aid from Israel before it launched its “Peace for Galilee” operation.
Officially, Israel is remaining aloof from the election process. But observers in Jerusalem have noted that Israel may react less objectively if Gemayel fails in his bid for the Presidency or if an alternative candidate emerges between now and Monday, the last possible date for the Presidential election to be held. It falls exactly one month before President Elias Sarkis’ six-year term expires September 23.
On Tuesday, Israeli troops handed over to the Lebanese army control of the Galerie Sema, a crossing point between east and west Beirut. Yesterday, the Israelis handed over the National Museum crossing point and also pulled back 300 yards from the Lebanese Parliament building to allow Lebanese soldiers to clear the area in time for the election. These moves by the Israel is sought to avoid the impression that the election would be held under the pressure of Israeli guns.