Cease-fire still elusive in Lebanon Christopher shuttles between Syria, Israel in quest of an accord

Fighting is less intense

Israeli leader blames Hezbollah for civilian casualties in barrage

April 23, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF Joshua Brilliant in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A diplomatic solution to the conflict in Lebanon remained elusive yesterday, as the fighting's victims were mourned, Israeli planes bombed new targets south of the capital and Hezbollah guerrillas fired rockets into Israel, wounding two Israelis.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher held five hours of talks in Damascus, Syria -- his second trip there in two days -- and then returned to Jerusalem. But so far he has failed to achieve a cease-fire in the hostilities that have raged for 12 days.

"Our goal is to seek an early cease-fire and a set of enduring understandings," Mr. Christopher said.

He said he gave Syrian President Hafez el Assad a new version of a plan to stop the fighting, but declined to characterize his progress in the talks or Mr. Assad's reaction.

Israel and the Hezbollah guerrillas have expressed a desire for a cease-fire, but Mr. Christopher was having difficulty negotiating the details of an agreement.

Yesterday afternoon, Israeli jets bombed the concrete bunkers of a Palestinian organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a Syrian-backed group that is opposed to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

The attack raised huge plumes of smoke over a neighborhood south of Beirut, but there was no report of casualties.

The 12th day of Israel's bombardment showed a slackening of the war effort on both sides, an indication perhaps that neither side wanted a major incident to disrupt the diplomatic efforts.

No fatalities were reported yesterday, though most people in southern Lebanon and many in northern Israel have fled or remain in bunkers. About 400,000 Lebanese and an estimated 18,000 Israelis are displaced.

The Hezbollah guerrillas fired scattered Katyusha salvos toward northern Israel, causing damage to some buildings and wounding two Israelis. Israel reduced the frequency of its artillery barrages, though it continued to fire at villages in southern Lebanon and at cars on the major road between Beirut and South Lebanon.

Lebanese throughout the country were silent at noon yesterday, honoring the scores of refugees, including children, killed Thursday in an Israeli shelling of a United Nations post, and the other victims of the bombardment, estimated at about 150. Shops and businesses throughout Beirut were closed.

"I'm really miserable. My heart is black over what happened," said Wassila Haidar, 21, a law student in Beirut. "What was the guilt of these children who died? I am only happy that this miserable incident shows the true nature of Israel to the world."

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said he held the guerrillas operating near U.N. camps in South Lebanon responsible for the incident in which many Lebanese civilians were killed.

"The terrible tragedy of Qana [and] Lebanon's suffering -- all of it is the blame of the terrorist organizations, first and foremost Hezbollah," he told a special session of the Israeli parliament.

Hezbollah still was launching attacks on Israel from near U.N. bases, the army said yesterday.

The extent to which the mourning was observed yesterday in Beirut was further indication that Israel's strategy of trying to turn the Lebanese population and government against Hezbollah largely has backfired.

The bombardment and civilian suffering has propelled the normally fractious groups in Lebanon into at least temporary unity, their leaders joined in denouncing the Israeli attack on their country.

By most indications, support for the small band of Hezbollah guerrillas has soared; even Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has been compelled to express grudging support for Hezbollah's goals.

"Everybody is together in this. There's no difference between Christians, Muslims and Druze," said Salam Wazzam, 28, a businessman strolling with his wife in largely Muslim West Beirut.

But old enmities die hard. In the Jounieh section of East Beirut, a Christian stronghold, many express resentment at the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah.

"They fire the Katyushas, and look what happens to Lebanon," complained Maroun Daon, a Christian taxi driver. "There is no business, no work, no money."

"We are against Israel. But we cannot live together with the Muslims," said another Christian, a car salesman who said it was "too dangerous" to give his name. "I prefer to split Lebanon into two pieces -- like Cyprus -- one for Muslim, one for Christian."

Debate also raged in Israel, where Mr. Peres defended the military operation in a special session of the Knesset.

Mr. Peres said the bombardment is "open-ended" and will not be finished until Israel obtains guarantees that Hezbollah will not fire rockets at civilian areas in northern Israel. Hezbollah says it launches those attacks in response to Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians.

"Our main goal is to return to the residents safety and security," Mr. Peres said.

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