TEL AVIV (May. 1)
The number of refugees from the civil war in Beirut who have retreated to the southern Lebanon security zone reached 20,000 this weekend, the Israeli authorities reported.
Only two weeks ago they numbered 12,000.
About 95 percent are Shiite and Sunni Moslems, with the other 5 percent Lebanese Christians.
The influx proves “that the security zone is the best and safest place to live today in Lebanon,” Gen. Yossi Peled, commander of the northern sector, said in an interview last week with the Israel-sponsored “Voice of the South” radio.
Few Christian refugees arrive in the security zone because the Christian enclave in Beirut is cut off from the roads leading south from the city.
Christians looking for escape travel to Cyprus, which is accessible by ferry from the Christian-held northern Lebanese port of Jounieh.
But Syrian guns have shelled the ferries, causing wealthy Christians to sail to Cyprus in their yachts.
While there, many of the Beirut Christians met with the hundreds of Israeli yachtsmen who visited Cyprus during the Passover holidays, to exchange gossip and information.
Upon returning home, the Israelis reported that a boatload of refugees was sunk by Syrian forces recently.
The Israeli yachtsmen reported that they, too, were harassed near Cyprus. One fast boat, flying the Syrian flag, repeatedly cut across their bows at close range.
The Israelis said that in response to a radio telephone call for help, a British army helicopter appeared and warned the Syrian vessel away.