United Beirut

October 18, 1990

The Green Line dividing Christian from Moslem is coming down after 15 years and Beirut is being united again. But is this an occasion for joy, as was the dismantling of the Berlin Wall? Berlin is one city in a reunited country. Beirut may be one city but no one is sure that Lebanon is one country again.

The downfall of Gen. Michel Aoun, the self-appointed savior, ruler and army commander of Maronite Christians, at least makes it possible for the Arab League-brokered settlement of 1988 -- and the unified government of President Elias Hrawi, a Maronite Christian, and Prime Minister Salim Hoss, a Sunni Moslem -- to take effect.

The terrible internecine warfare among the Christian militias is over with General Aoun's flight to the French embassy. Whether the strife between Christian and Moslem is over is problematical. Other private armies are still out there.

The end of this round of fighting is a welcome byproduct of the unwelcome crisis in the Persian Gulf. General Aoun, though a Christian, was a client of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who armed him for no other reason than the Hrawi-Hoss government's dependence on Syria, President Hussein's enemy. Preoccupied with his takeover of Kuwait and threat of war, President Hussein cut his Lebanese Christian friends adrift.

Yet the weak Lebanese army could not dislodge General Aoun's army, and needed Syria's army and air force to help. With some sort of understanding that the U.S. and Israel would not intervene, Syrian planes rocketed East Beirut and Syrian troops marched in. Syria's President Hafez el Assad, miraculously transformed in Western eyes from foe to ally against Iraq, ended the pretension of General Aoun to drive him out of Lebanon.

So citizens of Beirut of all faiths can wander through their whole city now, but Syrian troops occupy Christian East Beirut and no one knows when they will leave. The political settlement of 1988 that the Syrians are enforcing was designed to get Syrian troops out, not keep them in. Getting them out remains the objective of the U.S., the Arab League, Israel and Lebanon's Christians. No one doubts that a period of serenity in Lebanon is needed first. Serenity is not at hand, but one of the obstacles to it has been overcome.

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