TEL AVIV (Aug. 19)
The first contingent of the international force to oversee the PLO withdrawal from Beirut — between 300 and 350 French soldiers — is scheduled in Beirut at five a.m. on Saturday, according to the Italian Ambassador to Lebanon, Franco Ottieri, in an interview with Galei Zahal (the Israel Armed Forces Radio) in Beirut today.
He noted that Italian and American contingents for the force were also at sea now, on the way to Lebanon. In all, some 2,000 soldiers will make up the force, including 800 each from the U.S. and France, and 400 from Italy.
Ottieri said the American and Italian contingents would disembark four or five days after Saturday, according to the plans now finalized following the official Lebanese government invitation to the participating countries to send contingents to the international force:
Ottieri said he had met with PLO leader Yasir Arafat last right and “he indicated that he would not raise problems” on returning the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped yesterday in the west Beirut area. “I think it is already public knowledge that the matter is solved,” the envoy said.
Brig. Gen. Eitan Barak, Israel’s liaison office with the international force, met today for the third time with force representatives to work out final details for their landing and operation.
STRAPS BEYOND THE INITIAL WITHDRAWAL
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Fuad Boutros of Lebanon said today in Beirut that if the first French contingent arrived in Beirut as scheduled at dawn on Saturday, the PLO evacuation could begin in the afternoon, a few hours later. Lebanese Premier Shafik Al-Wazzan said it could possibly be completed in less than the two weeks scheduled for the evacuation.
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said today that as soon as the PLO evacuation from Beirut was completed, diplomatic negotiations could begin for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, including those of the Syrians and Israelis, as well as of the remaining PLO forces from Tripoli and northern Lebanon.
He said that with the Beirut evacuation, Israel could begin to release the reserves it had called up for the Lebanon campaign. Their continued army service places a very heavy burden on the Israeli economy.