Beirut, a sad, smoking hulk of a city once described as a "Mediterranean paradise," is in danger of sliding further into a violent breakdown. The problem throughout Lebanon seems to be too many guns and too many feuds.
The Lebanese, their neighbors in the Arab world, and Israel on April 2 were anxiously watching a flare-up in fighting between rightist Christian forces and Syrian troops of the Arab Deterrent Force. By late in the day, a cease-fire had been arranged.
One clash centered around Sodeco, the port area, where sniper fire is a continual problem. The so-called Green Line dividing the Christian Falange area from the commercial center, which is also the Muslim or Palestinian section, is a tense no man's land most days. But firefights have increased there over the past two weeks.
Another clash was in the predominantly Maronite Christian town of Zahle, just east of the Lebanon mountain range. In this case, too, the all-Syrian Arab Deterrent force (ADF) was fighting the Maronite Lebanese forces. Air traffic into Beirut was rerouted part of the day because of danger along the flight path.
One source described the violence as the worst in three years, although not so bad as during the height of the civil war in 1976. Besides the danger to war-weary residents of Lebanon, there remains a possibility that other nations which support one or another of the myriad causes and armed factions in the small coastal country could become involved. Israel, for example, is unofficially allied with the Falange.
The particular problem in Lebanon today is that an anarchical status quo has existed for so long now that few Lebanese have much faith in a peaceful resolution of the dozens of disputes. Efforts to improve the social, political, and economic climate have been frustrated repeatedly. Some even suggest that Lebanon is no longer a sovereign nation.
Another problem is that the 24 or so militia forces, two armies (Syrian and Lebanese) and the United Nations peace-keeping force, have cut the country up into de facto enclaves.
In most of the Mideast there is a blase acceptance of the breakdown of Lebanon as well as indifference to the complex web of rivalries and causes that have aggravated the Lebanese situation to become what it is. In almost every Mideast capital, however, there is a macabre interest in the level to which Lebanon has sunk, because for years Levantine society was the most sophisticated in the Arab world.