Syrians Mount Pressure on Aoun
Swift formation of a new government may herald Syrian move to oust Christian general. LEBANON
BEIRUT — LEBANON has buried its murdered president and elected a successor who has taken on the mission of implementing an Arab-backed peace plan. But many Lebanese fear the immediate future will be far from peaceful.
In particular, many well-placed Christian sources in the enclave controlled by the hard-line Gen. Michel Aoun fear that the swift election of a new president and immediate formation of a new government under heavy Syrian protection herald an imminent Syrian move to oust General Aoun from the presidential palace he is refusing to give up.
``A collision is inevitable unless General Aoun stages a political retreat, and there is no sign of that,'' said one source, summing up the belief of many others.
In recent days, even before the death of Ren'e Muawad, Syrian troops are reported by many sources to have made dispositions on the ground which could herald a lightning thrust toward the presidential palace.
All sources agree that Washington will play the decisive role in determining which way the scenario goes. They say the Syrians would not undertake any such move - which would have to be carried out swiftly - without a green light from the Americans and, through them, the Israelis.
Israel has sharply asserted its presence in the aftermath of President Muawad's brutal assassination in a massive bomb blast in Syrian-controlled West Beirut on Nov. 22. The following day, Israeli jets carried out unprovoked air raids on bases held by pro-Syrian Palestinian guerrillas in the eastern Bekaa valley.
Some well-placed Lebanese sources believe a return to a state of de facto partition - with Aoun's Christian army units controlling the Christian enclave, while most of the rest of the country remained under Syrian control, with the Israelis entrenched in the south - would not be acceptable to the Syrians. They say Aoun's continued presence is unacceptable to Damascus because his anti-Syrian stance has won him much popularity in the Syrian-held areas, where the Syrian presence is deeply resented.
The manner in which the murdered president, Ren'e Muawad, was swiftly replaced by his successor, Elias Hrawi, has intensified the conviction of many well-placed sources that a Syrian move against Aoun, at the request of the new president, is an imminent possibility.
Many aspects of Mr. Hrawi's election contrasted sharply with that of Muawad less than three weeks earlier.
Although Muawad's election took place at a parliamentary session held at a military airbase in the Syrian-controlled north of the country, security at the base was in the hands of Lebanese Army and police forces.
There was no such pretense at Hrawi's election, which was carried out at a hurried session held on the night of Nov. 24 at a hotel in Shtaura, the Syrian military headquarters in the eastern Bekaa valley.
Hrawi is also of a different stamp than Muawad. Many Christian sources regard him as much more open to Syrian influence and suggestion than his predecessor, as well as having not quite Muawad's stature.
Within hours of his election, and still under heavy Syrian protection at Shtaura, Hrawi appointed a prime minister - the Sunni leader Selim Hoss, who had earlier been appointed by Muawad. The formation of a 14-man government was announced a few hours later, in the middle of the night.
Some well-placed sources say this whole process was carried out with the goal of moving swiftly to impose the new government's authority over the Christian enclave, inviting the Syrians to oust Aoun if necessary.
The scenario expected by these circles is that once the new Cabinet has been given a rapid vote of confidence by Parliament, it will appoint a new Army commander and military council, dismiss Aoun from his old position of Army commander, and proclaim him and any troops remaining loyal to him as being in a state of mutiny. If Aoun refused to budge, Syrian forces would then be invited to remove him from the presidential palace by force.
Sources say this is why two of the Christians named in the new Cabinet - the Phalangist leader, George Saadeh, and Michel Sassin - declined to participate, and why a number of other prominent Christians declined to be considered either for the presidency or for inclusion in the Cabinet.