PLO's Arafat may be ready to make Lebanon concessions
Beirut, Lebanon — High-level talks among Palestinian and Lebanese leaders and a UN representative on troubled south Lebanon have brought hints of a political accommodation.
At issue for UN Assistant Secretary-General Brian Urquart are the difficulties in implementing Security Council resolutions on south Lebanon, as well as visiting the 6,000-man UN peace-keeping force known as UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon) that has been here for two years.
The visit of UN Assistant Secretary-General Brian Urquart coincided with heavy artillery shelling in Tyre from Israeli-backed rightist militias. The bombardment, which took the lives of three children, is part of an escalation of tension between opposing forces in the south's rolling hills and coastal plain.
Little has been announced publicly about the outcome of his talks. But there are some indications that PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, who commands around 5,000 guerrillas operating in or near the south, may be prepared to offer some concessions there.
The exact purpose of the March 17 bombing, aimed with precision on the al-Jarrah Muslim Boy Scout headquarters in the ancient port city, remained unclear. But it was noted here that the al-Jarrah Scouts had provided contingents for a leftist military parade near Beirut the previous day, which was interpreted as a show of force for Lebanon's powerful right-wing front.
The shelling of Tyre, along with stepped-up bombardments of Palestinian-leftist strongholds in and around the strategic Beaufort Castle, also served to warn the UN's Mr. Urquart that he could expect little cooperation from the Israeli-backed right-wing forces commanded by renegade Army Maj. Saad Haddad.
Major Haddad's forces, thought to number around 3,000, have consistently refused to allow UN peace-keeping units to deploy in areas under their control, which has caused a two-year delay in implementing Security Council solutions on the subject.
Major Haddad's militias have even advanced their lines to areas nominally already under UN control, such as the village of Beit Yahoun, where the militias operate a checkpoint within feet of a nearby UN position.
Other challenges to the neutrality of UN troops' area of operations have until now come from PLO units who claim that pockets within the UN area were never occupied by the Israeli forces who invaded in March 1978. Because of that the PLO feels the area should not be ceded to international forces.
While PLO leaders continue to cling to this argument in public, there is some speculation that they might make some concessions on this point, in an attempt to quiet down the troublesome south Lebanese front.
Support for the PLO and its local allies has been dwindling among the south Lebanese population in recent months. The PLO leaders might hope that trying to save the southerners further bombardments might conserve what popularity they still have.
Mr. Arafat might also be hoping to send an indirect signal to the Europeans that diplomatic moves toward the PLO such as those seen in France, Austria, and even Britain in recent weeks could be accompanied with a lessening of tension in the Mideast arena.
The only indication, however slight, that this thinking might now be going on in the PLO is the secrecy with which Mr. Arafat's talks with Mr. Urquart have been shrouded. This is in strict contrast, to the publicity the Palestinians usually accord to their chairman's meetings with any UN dignitary.