Lebanese put factions ahead of nation

Neighbors clambered onto the terrace in Christian east Beirut, bringing their own refreshments and settling in for the ''fireworks'' show. The ''fireworks'' were Israeli shells slamming into Muslim west Beirut at the rate of about 30 per minute.

Cheering, they clinked glasses as a hail of rockets hit their targets with a bang and leaping flames.

In Muslim west Beirut, few dared to watch from their darkened balconies to see if the shells were getting so close as to necessitate a run for the basement.

Having had no water or electricity for several days, some on the west side were resentful of the twinkling lights of east Beirut.

''I'm Christian, but I live here and I could kill them for what they are letting the Israelis do to us,'' said a man whose two baby daughters had already been evacuated to the east.

The fact that Israel had stopped at the gates of west Beirut has less than pleased some east siders. ''My family is out of there. Who cares about our apartments? Why haven't they finished off the Palestinians?'' asked a middle-aged, middle-class Maronite Christian.

The sentiments of both men ran through each half of this capital city, divided since the 1975-76 civil war.

Israeli and American leaders have said they wished a strong government would emerge from the Israeli invasion. Until the Israelis encircled Beirut, many Lebanese also wondered if this might not be the time to restore order. But once the Israelis crossed into areas controlled by the Christian Phalange militia, that thought died.

Although there is no proof the Christians have been fighting alongside the Israelis, reporters (including this one) have seen Christian militiamen manning checkpoints, spotting, and scouting for the Israelis.

The Phalangists deny this vigorously and maintain that Israel is doing Lebanon a favor by getting rid of the Palestinians and the Syrians.

''Once the Palestinians and Syrians are out, it can be nothing but good for Lebanon,'' said Pierre Yazbeck, a Phalange spokesman.

''We are not having a good time. We don't want west Beirut to suffer more. But we can't understand how the people can let the Palestinians play this game, '' he said.

''We don't blame the people, we blame the leaders,'' he added. ''The Palestinians don't care. It is not their city. They will not have to rebuild it.''

A Harvard-educated professor at the American Univeristy of Beirut said categorically that the exit of foreign armies would make no difference.

''The Lebanese have been slaughtering each other successfully for years, for decades, without any outside help. Remember the 1958 civil war?''

Dr. Abdul Rahman Labban, the minister of social affairs and labor, says the Lebanese will not have peace because they lack a national identity.

The Lebanese identify themselves with their communities, and thus see themselves as Maronites, Sunni Muslims, or Shiite Muslims rather than as Lebanese first.

''No community is strong enough to dominate, so they have linked up with foreign powers to secure superiority or dominance,'' he said. Dr. Labban is a Sunni leader.

''Our upbringing and education have always been toward this communal identity ,'' he said.

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