Fierce fighting over the weekend between Druze and Christians in the Shouf mountains of central Lebanon drew a sharp warning from the Israeli Cabinet today to “all forces in Lebanon to refrain from collaborating with the terrorist organizations (which are) the enemies of both Israel and Lebanon.”
Israel acknowledged at the same time that its armored patrols are once again active north of the Awali River, the line to which the Israel Defense Force withdrew barely a week ago. The Israelis made it clear that their actions were aimed against Palestine Liberation Organization units which they say have penetrated “certain areas” in the fighting zone.
The worsening crisis in Lebanon also involves the U.S., France, Italy and Britain whose troops in the 5,400-man multinational force on a peacekeeping mission in and around Beirut have been sustaining casualties from shell and mortar fire believed to come from Druze or Moslem leftists entrenched in the mountains east of the Lebanese capital.
U.S. SAYS NO TO BEEFED UP FORCES
But President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz stated flatly over the weekend that the U.S. and its allies will not accede to the urgent request by Lebanese President Amin Gemayel that they beef up their forces and move into the Shouf area vacated by Israel.
“We are not planning on expanding the forces that are there,” Reagan said Friday in a telephone question-and-answer session with the Republican Western Regional Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. The President, for the first time, characterized the fighting in Lebanon as a “civil war” and acknowledged that the U.S. had not anticipated this when he first ordered the marines to Beirut nearly a year ago.
Shultz, returning from a conference in Madrid late Friday, said that “under the present circumstances there isn’t any disposition to change our mission in Lebanon.” The State Department defined the mission of the U.S. and its allies as a demonstration of political support for the Lebanese government and to contribute to that government’s stability, but not to settle differences among Lebanese factions.
SYRIA SEEN AS THE MAIN OBSTACLE
U.S. special envoy Robert McFarlane is in the region trying to engineer a cease-fire among the warring factions. According to one State Department source, McFarlane’s reports have convinced Shultz and others in the Administration that Syria is the main obstacle to his efforts. The Department believes that if Syria withdrew its support for the Druze and Moslem leftists, a cease-fire could be arranged without difficulty.
A major part of President Reagan’s meeting with his National Security Council at the White House over the weekend reportedly focussed on how to blunt Syria’s role, but also how to deal with pressure to pull out the marines which is expected to develop when Congress returns from its summer recess this week.
ISRAEL APPALLED BY CAMAGE
The Israelis, meanwhile, are seriously disturbed by the camage that broke out after the IDF was redeployed to the Awali River security zone, a move taken in large measure to end or reduce Israeli casualties. They are also appalled by claims by the Druze and Lebanese Christians that each side has massacred scores of civilians of the other.
The Cabinet’s call today mentioned neither side but was clearly directed at the Druze and their Moslem leftist and PLO allies who appear to hold the upper hand in the Shouf area fighting. Israel is particularly worried by the PLO role but Cabinet sources said Israel “has grounds to hope and believe” that there would not be a large-scale return of the terrorists to these areas or to Beirut proper.
The sources were reluctant to say what if any direct action Israel might take should that hope prove unfounded. “In the worst-cases eventuality, we will have the same confrontation line as previously, only further south,” one source said. The IDF is now deployed some 40 kilometers (28 miles) north of the Israeli border.
QUESTIONS ABOUT IDF UNITS
The disclosure that IDF armored units are once more operating north of this line raised questions at today’s Cabinet session. Defense Minister Moshe Arens said the patrols were ad hoc actions, not intended to be regular operations.
He said Israel would not intervene directly in the fighting in central Lebanon but would continue to strike at the PLO when and where it sees fit. Army circles said the Israeli patrols consisted of “armed reconnaissance” by two or three tanks supported by armored personnel carriers.
The Cabinet rejected a proposal by Finance Minister Yoram Aridor that ministerial approval should be obtained before any IDF patrol was ordered north of the Awali River.
The Cabinet communique expressed “deep shock” at “acts of massacre of innocent civilians” and called on “all elements” to cease and desist. Neither Druze nor Christians were specifically mentioned. Government sources denied that the official “even-handedness” was dictated by intense pressure from Israel’s Druze community on behalf of their brethren in Lebanon.
BOTH SIDES CLAIM MASSACRES
The Lebanese government claimed over the weekend that 53 civilians were killed in the village of Birch. The Christian Phalange-controlled radio said 118 Christians were slaughtered “by a mixed force of Druze, their Palestinian and Lebanese allies.” The rightwing Christian radio broadcast the names of 14 people it claimed had their throats cut by Druze in a raid on the village church. A week ago, Druze claimed massacres by Christians.
Radio Beirut said today that the Lebanese government has appealed to the UN Security Council to save the thousands of Christian civilians trapped in the Shouf Mountain village of Deir el Kamar by a strong Druze force.
Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Lebanese Druze, said in an interview with the French leftist daily Liberation that he was not sure he could control his own men. “I run a militia, not an army, ” he said and warned that his men might act on their own if the Christians committed atrocities.
In the same interview Jumblatt laid down his conditions for a cease-fire, foremost of which was abrogation of the Israel-Lebanese agreement on foreign troop withdrawals and security signed last May 15 after months of negotiations in which the U.S. played a major role.
The other conditions, he said, were the withdrawal of Christian forces and Lebanese army units from the Shouf mountains and redeployment of the Lebanese army outside of Beirut. Jumblatt accused the Christians in Beirut of “planning a new Sabra and Shatila massacre” against the local Moslem population.
Jumblatt also warned that if the multinational force continued to take what he claimed was a biased, pro-Christian attitude, he would ask for its departure. But he denied that his forces had shelled the U.S. marines or French forces in Beirut. He attributed those attacks to “trouble-makers” whom he did not identify. “They want to harm our relations with France and the United States,” he said.
LEBANESE CHRISTIANS CROSS INTO ISRAEL
Meanwhile, several hundred Lebanese Christians from Sidon in south Lebanon and the Shouf region crossed the border into Israel at Ras Hanikra today. They were allowed to enter on a presentation of identity cards. Some are seeking refuge among family and friends in Israel. Several purchased airline tickets to Europe at special El Al ticket offices set up at Ras Hanikra and Metullah.
The fighting between Druze and Christians appeared for a time to have spilled over into Israel. Shots were fired and a hand grenade thrown at a Christian house in Usafiya, a village on the Carmel range populated by Druze but with a Christian minority.
Police reinforcements were dispatched. But Druze and Christian leaders in the village and in the two communities in Israel stressed that the incident was part of a feud between families and was not related to the fighting in Lebanon.