Street fighting has again broken out in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. In the past?
Street fighting has again broken out in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. In the past three days, about 150 people have died in clashes between the Lebanese army and right-wing militias on the one side and Syrian troops of the Arab peace-keeping force on the other. The combination of this and renewed shelling reported from the southern border with Israel have produced a situation in Lebanon as tense as any since the civil war ended in November 1976.
SYNOPSIS: Fighting first broke out in April 1975. It began as an internal struggle between left-wing Moslems who felt themselves excluded from their proper share in the country's government, and the militias of the dominant right-wing Christians.
Palestinian guerrillas allied themselves with the Moslems. In 1976, they held out for nearly two months in Tel al-Zataar camp.
By then, Syria had moved in. She sent first her own Palestinian force, the Saiqa, and then regular troops of the Syrian army, with the task of restoring order. The Lebanese Moslems demanded their withdrawal but they were welcomed by the hard-pressed Christians. The Arab world was divided about the Syrian move. But eventually, the Arab League set up its own peace-keeping force of about 30,000. Most of its members were Syrians.
Since the end of 1976, most of the clashes have been along Lebanon's southern border, where Israel has backed the Christian forces against Palestinian guerrilla activity. In the meantime, battered Beirut has been slowly struggling back to normal
Before the civil war, it was a major commercial centre. To rebuild the country's economy, the Lebanese government has been making every effort to get the port of Beirut into working order again.
Private business enterprise has shown its faith in the country' future by building a brand new luxury hotel and conference centre. Now it must be wondering, with fighting returning again to Beirut, whether its confidence has been misplaced, or at any rate premature.
The right-wing Phalangist movement has been building up its strength in recent months. About 1,000 recruits graduate every month from its militia from a camp in the Lebanese mountains. It was these groups that originally welcomed the Syrian army into Lebanon. Now they are their principal opponents in the fighting in Beirut, though the clash that started it was between the Syrians and the regular Lebanese army.
Resentment has been building up between the Christians and the Syrians. Mr. Camille Chamoun, a former President and right-wing leader, has just accused the Syrians of behaving more like an army of occupation than a peace-keeping force.
Just before the present outbreak of fighting, the Syrians took control of the scene in central Beirut after a bomb explosion, which killed one person and wounded 17 others. The Syrian government says its forces are there with the consent of the Lebanese government, and will be pulled out if the Lebanese want them to go. It has been speaking of withdrawing them anyway when their present mandate from the Arab League expires in April.