Paris — French appear open to a move for evacuating Arafat
French officials denied Thursday they are negotiating for the evacuation of Yasser Arafat from Tripoli, Lebanon, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman seemed to leave open the possibility of such a French action.
''So far Arafat says he doesn't want to leave,'' the spokesman said. ''What happens will depend on what Arafat wants.''
The French, fearing that the demise of Mr. Arafat would lead to a radicalization of the PLO, have been active during the past week seeking an end to the fighting in Tripoli. Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Francois Gutman was to fly to Moscow today to urge the Soviets to increase their pressure on Syria to stop attacking Arafat.
Despite a flurry of diplomatic activity, officials continue to deny that France is serving as the key player in any negotiation to ensure Mr. Arafat's safety or to facilitate an Israeli-PLO prisoner exchange.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, several hundred of Arafat's guerrillas, stranded at the Baddawi refugee camp, attempted to fight their way out of a Syrian-backed siege hours after Arafat called a cease-fire. At least 345 Palestinian guerrillas and civilians were killed and 805 wounded in a two-day rebel assault against the camp.
And near Beirut, French warplanes bombed strongholds of Shiite Muslim militants in eastern Lebanon, the same area where Israeli warplanes struck Wednesday.
The 24th US Marine Amphibious Unit, decimated by last month's suicide bomb attack, began leaving Beirut Thursday and its replacements came ashore amid artillery battles in the mountains. The departing troops were being replaced by the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, fresh from the invasion of Grenada, for a six-month tour of duty as part of the multinational peacekeeping force.