WASHINGTON (Jan. 10)
The State Department charged today that Israeli troops “challenged” U.S. marines several times in the last few days by trying to go through the checkpoints the Americans are manning on roads near the Beirut airport.
Department spokesman John Hughes said that while he would not call the Israelis “threatening,” they had violated an agreement and their attempts were “not helpful and we don’t want it to continue.”
“We have expressed our concern to the Israel government,” Hughes said, “and have made it clear that the zone of deployment of the MNF (the multinational force consisting of marines and French and Italian units in Beirut) is closed to al military forces other than those of Lebanon and the MNF.”
Hughes said he did not know how many incidents there were but there were more than two. News reports from Beirut said the encounters occurred when Israel began conducting sweeps after an Israel army truck was blown up when it passed a booby-trapped car parked on a road less than a mile from the area controlled by the marines.
Hughes said today, “This development underscores the urgent necessity to get on with the effort to negotiate the prompt withdrawal from Lebanon of Israel and other external forces.” In that connection, U.S. special envoy Philip Habib met with President Reagan at the White House today before going back to Lebanon in an effort to speed up the negotiations between Israel and Lebanon.
Both the White House and the State Department denied today that there was any dissatisfaction in the Administration with Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and Asian Affairs and Morris Draper, the special envoy for the negotiations in Lebanon. A report in the Washington Times today alleged that Reagan was dissatisfied with the two officials because of the lack of progress in getting foreign troops out of Lebanon. White House spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters that Veliotes and Draper were “outstanding individuals” doing “a top job.”