Envoys push for truce in Lebanon Region still rocked by fighting between Israel and Hezbollah

Christopher on scene

Several nations' diplomats ask Assad to enforce cease-fire

April 21, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIRUT -- Diplomats from the United States and other nations worked yesterday to establish a cease-fire in the conflict in southern Lebanon, which shook again under bombardment from Israeli ships, jets and artillery.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was scheduled to fly to Jerusalem this morning to report on talks held last night with Syrian President Hafez el Assad in Damascus.

Mr. Assad held court throughout the day, hearing successive appeals from American, Russian, French, Italian and Iranian representatives who believe he can enforce a cease-fire between Israel and the Islamic militia Hezbollah.

"There clearly is some distance to go," Mr. Christopher said before meeting Mr. Assad. But he said he hoped for results from his discussion "in the next 24 or 48 hours."

Israeli shelling took three more lives yesterday, including a school principal and two Lebanese soldiers killed by an air-to-ground missile, according to authorities here. Israeli jets bombed central Lebanon, warships aimed at civilian traffic on the main coastal highway, and artillery pummeled villages in the south. Hezbollah guerrillas continued firing back, launching at least 14 Katyusha rockets toward towns in northern Israel. There were no casualties.

Both sides in the violence have indicated their willingness to stop firing, but Mr. Christopher's task was to stitch together an agreement between distrustful and antagonistic parties.

"It's in all our interests to stop the killing, to bring this to an end," Mr. Christopher said. "For the time being, the emphasis has to be on getting the cease-fire and stopping the killing."

His shuttle mission began after Israel shelled refugees in a United Nations peacekeepers camp Thursday. Not all the bodies have been identified and counted yet, but officials say that between 75 and 100 civilians died and more than 100 others were wounded.

Lebanon's minister of foreign affairs, Faris Bweiz, said he expects a cease-fire today or tomorrow. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri said Friday that the Hezbollah leaders were trying to get the word to their scattered guerrillas to stop fighting.

The conflict, which yesterday entered its 11th day, has forced the flight of an estimated 400,000 Lebanese civilians from their homes and villages. Israeli officials said yesterday that about 18,000 Israeli civilians have left the town of Kiryat Shmona, the closest large target of Katyushas.

Israeli officials say Hezbollah has fired 460 Katyushas. Israel has fired more than 15,000 artillery rounds and flown more than 1,000 sorties. One Israeli soldier was killed and about 40 civilians injured. In Lebanon, at least 136 have died and 300 wounded.

Israeli raids yesterday continued to enforce Israel's orders to Lebanese civilians not to move around their country. Vehicles traveling on the highway between Beirut and the cities of Tyre and Sidon were targets of two Israeli warships parked offshore.

Trucks piled high with foam rubber mattresses and relief supplies were like moving targets in a shooting gallery as they raced along a stretch of coastal highway being shelled by the Israeli ships.

The ships appeared to be firing smoke shells or light explosives, but at least one scored a direct hit on a car, and other vehicles swerved off the road and crashed.

The bombardments have left schools and public buildings crowded with refugees. The government and other groups, including Hezbollah, have been trying to provide food, clothing and sleeping mattresses to the refugees.

Mr. Hariri, speaking after a meeting of his Cabinet yesterday, said he would ask the United Nations to order Israel to compensate Lebanon for its losses.

Foreign ministers crowded Damascus because Syria exercises control over Lebanon and has 35,000 to 40,000 troops here. But those troops have done little to protect the country, short of firing occasional anti-aircraft weapons at Israeli jets and helicopters.

Pub Date: 4/21/96

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