Israeli soldiers watch from their farthest point of advance on the coastal road outside Beirut, as a battery of 155 artillery guns nearby sends a salvo northward with a shattering stutter. The shells fall out of sight, with a distant crump.
The battle on Beirut's approaches is a shadow play out of sight to the northeast where Israeli troops are linking up with Christian Phalange forces to surround Palestinians in the capital.
Back down the coast, a highly visible battle is going on in the heart of Sidon. Israeli gunners are battering the Palestinian camp of Ein Hilwe and its surroundings, where a large number of armed Palestinians are holding out, according to the Israeli military authorities. Watching from a rooftop 500 yards away, one can see shells raking the large area, over and over. On a slope above the camp, a tank belches smoke. From several directions comes the sound of artillery and heavy mortars.
''We believe that most civilians have fled the area, but that many are being held hostage,'' says an Israeli officer. ''We've been calling on the terrorists inside for several days now on a mosque loudspeaker to surrender. Some have come out but many are still inside. When they kept on firing, we decided to attack.''
During a lull in the barrage, a distant voice can be heard on a loudspeaker.
While the shooting is going on in the eastern section of Sidon, the rest of the city is beginning to clean up and rebuild. It will be a big job. Israeli Maj. Arnon Mozer, in charge of civilian administration in Sidon, estimates that 5 or 6 percent of the structures in the city of 250,000 were totally destroyed. He said that about 10 percent suffered ''moderate'' structural damage that could be repaired. Lesser damage was suffered by virtually every other structure.
He said the figure of 1,500 dead in Sidon, reportedly given by the Red Cross, was grossly exaggerated. It will take several days before an accurate figure can be determined, the Israeli said. He says there are 500 wounded in the town's 12 hospitals.
In Tyre, damage is even more striking. Thirty percent of the structures have been totally destroyed, according to Israeli Maj. Yossef Dana. Major Dana, a lecturer in Arabic literature from Haifa University, has been appointed officer in charge of civilian administration in Tyre. He says that fewer than 100 civilians were killed in the city and about 300 wounded.