Daily convoys from Damascus bolster latest Druze offensive
The trucks laden with ammunition boxes growl up the road from Damascus into Lebanon, apparently resupplying antigovernment forces for a fresh round of battle with the US-backed President, Amin Gemayel.Skip to next paragraph
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That another round was irrevocably under way seemed, to gloomy foreign diplomats Tuesday, increasingly likely. American diplomats here declined comment. The rationale behind the more pessimistic view of other diplomats here was this:
Despite the capture of west Beirut last week by Mr. Gemayel's Syrian-backed Druze and Shiite Muslim foes, neither the weakened Gemayel nor his American patrons yet seem inclined to deal politically on the opposition's terms.
The United States naval force off Lebanon's shore was said Tuesday to have complied with a Gemayel request to resume, albeit on a relatively minor scale at time of writing, shelling of Syrian-controlled inland areas of Lebanon. Two Lebanese jets, most of Gemayel's tiny Air Force, went into action against opposition militiamen there for the first time in roughly five months. Unconfirmed reports from the opposition said one of the planes was downed.
Western news reports from Beirut said Lebanese Army troops had lost ground in the hills east of the capital in the escalated fighting. It was impossible to say with certainty who started the latest violence.
A visit by this and other reporters to east Lebanon after last week's larger-scale US naval bombardment suggested far less damage in civilian areas than Lebanese opposition spokesmen had charged. Yet in political terms, the shelling seemed to diplomats here an important sign that a negotiated detente in Lebanon was not around the corner.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese opposition's most vocal spokesman, insists Gemayel must resign, but is convinced the divided, weakened Lebanese Army is contemplating a US-supported counteroffensive.
Shiite leader Nabih Berri, arguably the opposition's most powerful spokesman, agrees Gemayel must go but seems more open to compromise on precisely how and when. Mr. Berri remains leery of aligning himself with Syria as closely as has Mr. Jumblatt, and feels internal Lebanese factors must dictate an eventual negotiated settlement.
Syria is believed ready to let Gemayel stay under certain circumstances. Also , the Syrians are, conditionally, open to the idea of having a United Nations force enter Beirut to replace the current US-European force there.
But what none in this three-voice opposition choir can countenance is the way in which Gemayel has responded to his military setbacks thus far: reaffirming links to the Americans and hanging on tighter to Lebanon's US-mediated May 1983 peace accord with Israel. Syria wants it scrapped.
Somehow, the Syrians seem to feel, US Mideast envoy Donald Rumsfeld should be conveying a fundamentally changed approach on the Lebanese crisis - not back in Washington merely weighing the next move with his highers-up.