TEL AVIV (Dec. 19)
Israeli sea and air forces continued to pound Palestine Liberation Organization forces in Lebanon today, both those loyal to Yasir Arafat and the Syrian-backed dissidents who oppose him.
For the second time in 12 hours, Israel Navy gunboats shelled targets in Tripoli in northern Lebanon where the PLO chief and some 4,000 of his fighters are awaiting evacuation by Greek ships flying the United Nations flag. Israel Air Force planes bombed PLO positions in Bahamdoun on the Beirut-Damascus highway. The town is the headquarters of the anti-Arafat PLO faction led by Abu Moussa.
The shelling of Tripoli yesterday and today was apparently responsible for delaying the departure of Arafat and his men. Five Greek car ferries which were due to begin the embarkation at Tripoli today have not yet sailed from Larnaca, Cyprus. Their masters reportedly postponed sailing because of the danger.
According to one report, Arafat himself had asked for “some hours” delay. The port area of Tripoli sustained damage from the Israeli shelling, several fires were started and one or two ships in the harbor were reportedly hit.
NO GUARANTEE OF SAFE CONDUCT
Israel has refused to guarantee safe conduct to Arafat and his men although it did not interfere with the evacuation of more than 70 PLO wounded in an Italian ship Saturday. Israel’s policy apparently is to keep the PLO uncertain of what to expect. It has succeeded so far to the extent that Arafat reportedly has decided to leave his heavy equipment, including tanks and artillery, behind in Lebanon if and when he leaves.
Although Israel is not expected to attack the evacuation ships it would clearly prefer a renewed battle between Arafat loyalists and dissidents to Arafat’s departure with his men and probably regrouping in some other Arab country. The dissidents have already warned that they will renew their attacks if the Arafat forces are not out of Lebanon in the next day or two.