Palestinians battle for a southern base

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Palestinians and Shiite Muslims engaged in two straight days of bitter house-to-house fighting this past week for control of a battered hilltop village in southern Lebanon. The death toll in the conflict had reached 130 by midweek. Although Palestinian fighters said they recaptured Maghdousheh village Nov. 25, police said the Shiite Amal militia still clung to positions on the village's eastern outskirts.

Maghdousheh, which has a predominantly Christian population of 9,000, overlooks Ain Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp and Lebanon's strategic coastal highway.

Police said the fighting began Nov. 24 when 1,500 guerrillas from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) broke out of the Ain Hilweh and nearby Mieh Mieh refugee camps to launch an assult on the high ground from which Amal artillery had routinely shelled the camps.

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Maghoudesh initially fell to the Palestinians, then changed hands twice as Amal tried to repulse the guerrillas. The onslaught marked a dramatic reassertion of Palestinian military strength, four years after Israeli forces compelled the PLO to evacuate its guerrillas from Beirut and southern Lebanon.

Amal has battled the Palestinians off and on for 18 months in an effort to keep PLO chief Yasser Arafat from regaining the Lebanese base he lost in the 1982 Israeli invasion. Pro-Syrian leaders in Lebanon denounced the Maghdousheh assault and accused Mr. Arafat of trying to carve out a substitute homeland for Palestinians in Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami said Nov. 25, ``We reject any Palestinian expansion outside the camps. We are against the concept that the road to Jerusalem goes through Sidon or Maghdousheh, because what is happening in Sidon and Maghdousheh could turn out to be the road from Tel Aviv to Lebanon,'' he added, reiterating the Lebanese fear that a Palestinian resurgence in Lebanon could invite Israeli reprisals.

As battles raged in the south, Palestinian sources in Beirut said fierce fighting had also erupted between Shiite militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas in the Borj al-Barajneh and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut.

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