Arafat packs bags for Tunisia, but plans to be elusive
Beirut — Yasser Arafat has kept his part of the peace bargain. His men are leaving west Beirut and Lebanon after a 77-day war with Israel.
Sunday's exit of approximately 1,200 of Mr. Arafat's own guerrilla group, Al-Fatah, proved that Arafat has no intention of reneging on the agreement and that the PLO is starting a new chapter in its history.
The Al-Fatah men will land in Tunisia. Mr. Arafat will make his headquarters - at least nominally - there along with the Arab League. Mr. Arafat will be more elusive than ever before, one of his aides said Friday before he, too, boarded Sunday's ship.
The Arab world's stateless head of state will keep on the move to reknit the PLO together and to avoid being pinned under the thumb of any one Arab nation, he added.
Among those leaving were members of Mr. Arafat's personal staff as well as employees of the Palestine news agency WAFA and the newspaper Falestine Al Thawra.
West Beirut, which has been convulsed by bombs, shells, and bloodshed, gave the PLO guerrillas an emotional farewell Saturday and Sunday.
Truck after truck rolled down Corniche Mazra, one of the most frequent Israeli targets, carrying 397 Palestine Liberation Army fighters to a Cypriot ferry boat.
From the balconies of their shell-pocked apartment houses, Lebanese and Palestinians cried, waved, cheered, and tossed rice and kisses as the men passed.
Beirut trembled with machine gun and mortar fire. But for the first time in months, the weapons were fired in salute rather than in the anger of war. The Palestinians, some with tear-stained faces, held their AK47 assault rifles and heads high as they waved the ''V'' for victory sign .
They began their journey with a heart- wrenching farewell in the Sabra refugee camp which used to be home for about 25,000 Palestinian civilians and now is badly damaged by the war. The families are being left behind with the rubble.
The first convoy of PLO guerrillas rumbled down the street under a hail of celebratory gunfire. But before the men took that final step, many climbed down to embrace and chant their farewell to Beirut.
One circle of PLO forces linked arms and danced singing ''with Yasser Arafat with Yasser Arafat'' to bagpipe music.
Some looked quite young - maybe 17 or 18, but the man dancing in the center was a PLO veteran. Gritting his teeth, he lifted up his AK47 and his eyes in obvious anguish and sorrow. The tears gushed uncontrollably down his cheeks.
24-year-old Abu Urga was upbeat. ''The Palestinians are not finished. We have a great strength after the war with Israel.''
But Abu Talat's feelings were nearer to those of the sad dancer. ''I am wretched. I am a Palestinian. Each year a new country.''
Lebanese and French soldiers stood every 10 feet along the final 600 yards leading into Beirut port.
The Palestinians that fought off the Israeli's one attempt to storm west Beirut Aug. 4 stood to attention, saluted, and handed over their post to a unit of French legionnaires. The French are the vanguard of the tri-nation force which is to supervise the PLO evacuation.