TEL AVIV (Aug. 26)
The evacuation of the PLO from west Beirut by road to Damascus was again postponed today, but officials expressed confidence that the overland movement would start tomorrow.
U.S. special envoy Philip Habib flew to Tel Aviv yesterday to assure Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, before Sharon’s departure for the U.S., that the evacuation–termed the expulsion of the PLO by Sharon himself–was on schedule and would be completed by the beginning of September.
A convoy of 50 large Syrian trucks was allowed along the Beirut-Damascus highway today, to collect the equipment of the Syrian troops who are being returned to Damascus from Beirut together with the PLO forces and Palestine Liberation Army men.
The first contingent of 250 Italian crack troops arrived in Beirut port today with a second batch of 250 due later today, aboard a vessel which was delayed by engine trouble at sea. Another detachment of 450 French troops also arrived today, to join the 350 who came at the start of the evacuation program.
The French troops, who originally staffed the Beirut port area but have now handed it over to U.S. marines, will patrol the National Museum crossing point between east and west Beirut, while the Italian troops will guard the Galerie Sema, a crossing point at which PLO convoys will depart from west Beirut. The sea evacuation of the PLO terrorists continued today to Syria and North Yemen.
MANY KILLED, WOUNDED IN WILD SHOOTING
Meanwhile, Lebanese police sources said that in the wild shooting Monday which accompanied the departure of the PLO–the typical Arab “fantasiya” or shooting into the air as a sign of rejoicing at weddings and festive occasions–nine persons were killed and 27 wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel. Another five persons were killed and 19 were wounded by similar “fantasiya” shootings Monday, by Christian followers of Bashir Gemayel following his election as President.
The delay of the overland evacuation today reportedly was caused by PLO and Syrian fears of attacks by Christian Phalangist shooting at the road convoys.
One of the purposes of Habib’s talk with Sharon last night is understood to have been to secure an undertaking by Israel that the Phalangists will be restrained from attacking the PLO as they pass through Christian-held segments of the Beirut-Damascus highway. Israel has reportedly agreed to pull its troops back from eyesight of the road while the PLO and Syrian convoys pass through, as a face-saving device to allow the PLO to claim a propaganda victory.
Sharon reportedly asked Habib to warn the Syrians that Israel’s patience was not without end and that if Syrian or PLO attacks continued from Syrian-held territory, Israel would be forced to react along the eastern sector of the Lebanon front.
Sharon left last night for New York to address a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. From there he will fly to Washington to address the International Israel Bond Leadership Conference tonight.
Sharon is also expected to meet with Secretary of State George Shultz to brief him on the evacuation of the PLO forces from Beirut and Israel’s future plans in Lebanon. No information was available whether Sharon would meet with other Administration leaders or if President Reagan will meet with him.
A report in Newsweek magazine last week said that Sharon had indicated he wanted to come to the U.S. to confer with Administration officials about the situation in Lebanon, but that he had been refused an invitation. The State Department said last week the reports about a “frosty” reaction to the possibility of a Sharon visit to Washington were inaccurate. Sharon’s scheduled meetings, however, indicate that all misunderstandings concerning his visit were ironed out.
BEGIN SEES AUTONOMY TALKS RESUMING SOON
Meanwhile, Premier Menachem Begin said yesterday he expected the autonomy negotiations, largely deadlocked since their start in mid-1979, to resume in the near future. Egypt, Israel’s partner in the talks, has said it would not agree to reopen the talks until the last Israeli soldier withdrew from Lebanon.
Israel had blamed the presence of the PLO for the failure of the autonomy talks, claiming that representatives of the 1.3 million West Bank and Gaza Strip residents were refusing to take port in the negotiations for fear of violent PLO retribution. Israeli officials say that with the expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon, the fear of reprisals has been removed. Israel has been pinning its hopes on the West Bank village leagues it established to by-pass the West Banks PLO-oriented leadership.
Before leaving for the U.S., Sharon met with the leaders of four village leagues to urge them to accept the autonomy plan. He reportedly told the leaders that the expulsion of the PLO from west Beirut “has provided a historic opportunity for peace in the Middle East.” He also expressed the hope that, in view of the “new circumstances in the Middle East,” Jordan might agree to join the autonomy talks.