Gemayel Defends His Decision to Scrap the May 17 Agreement

Lebanese President Amin Gemayel defended today his decision to scrap the May 17 peace treaty with Israel by telling the opening session of the Lebanese reconciliation conference that the abrogation of the agreement was “the sole imperative option to unify our people.” Gemayel said that signing the agreement had been necessary “in order to recover our land.”

The conference began this evening almost eight hours late, after the nine delegates postponed several times the official opening in order to wait for the arrival of the Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Khalim Khadam. Finally, after several of the delegates complained about what they termed Lebanon’s subservience to Syria, the conference, a follow-up to last year’s Geneva meeting, started. Just as Gemayel made his opening speech, Khadam’s plane landed in Geneva and he boarded a helicopter for Lausanne.

In his opening speech, Gemayel said that Lebanon’s top priority was putting an end to the country’s civil war and enforcing a definite and total ceasefire. He next enumerated the unification and liberation of Lebanon, the study of constitutional reforms and the formation of a government of national unity.

NO REFERENCE TO WITHDRAWAL OF FOREIGN TROOPS

Observers stressed that at no point in his four-page speech did Gemayel ask or even hint at the need to obtain a withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon. Sources close to the President told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that making such a call would be most untimely. They apparently referred to the new understanding reached in Damascus between Gemayel and Syria’s President Hafez Assad a week ago.

Throughout Gemayel’s speech the two main opposition leaders, Walid Jumblatt who heads the Druze, and Shiite leader Nabih Berri, avoided looking in his direction. In an open gesture of defiance, Berri, who called for Gemayel’s resignation on the eve of the conference’s opening, stared straight ahead, while Jumblatt, who wants the President tried for war crimes, closed his eyes and folded his hands in front of his face.

Observers believe the conference will only last a couple of days more and will probably conclude with a general agreement for a cease-fire. What is unclear is who will supervise the cease-fire and who will staff the “green line” which divides east and west Beirut and along which dozens have again died this week.

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