Lebanese leftists unite in challenge to withdrawal agreement with Israel
| Beirut, Lebanon
Yet another new faction has been formed in Lebanon, by a powerful group of leftists, to challenge both the Israeli-Lebanese agreement and the government of President Amin Gemayel.
The group, called the National Front, is particularly threatening because three of the four most prominent figures have their own militias. It also represents the most united stand taken by predominantly Muslim leftist leaders since they disbanded in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion.
On a broader level, the emergence of the National Front reflects the growing number of cracks within the Lebanese political system, and the tension which has led to new fears of civil strife even if foreign forces do withdraw. The National Front is not the only new faction to surface over the past eight months during the negotiating period.
The National Front, formed over the weekend in Zegharta, in northern Lebanon, includes many key Lebanese figures: former Premier Rashid Karami, former President Suleiman Franjieh, Druze chieftain and leading leftist Walid Jumblatt, and Communist Party leader George Hawi.
The movement's first action was to draw up a statement of opposition to the US-orchestrated agreement. Copies were sent to Arab states in an attempt to counter attempts by official Lebanese emissaries to rally support for the agreement.
Mr. Karami explained afterward: ''If the agreement is signed, we shall all be humiliated and face an Arab blockade. Our destiny will be uncertain. It is not salvation at any price which is required. What we need is a situation better than that in which we are now living.''
The former prime minister also charged that President Gemayel, a Christian, was allowing persecution of dissidents in Beirut, the only area now under Lebanese control. He said: ''They speak of their achievement in greater Beirut and we ask about the fate of our brethren (leftists) there. You know their ordeal and the humiliation, oppression, and fear which they suffer. The evidence is that no leader can express himself because he knows that he is within reach at any time. They would kill him.''
On Sunday, the leaders of the National Front traveled to Damascus for a meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad, who was quoted on state-controlled radio as saying: ''Syria supports your struggle against the agreement and attempts to infringe Lebanon's independence.''
The meeting coincided with predictions in the Syrian press of factional fighting in Lebanon. The Damascus Arabic daily Al-Thawrah wrote: ''The acceptance of this agreement is a serious gamble with Lebanon's future which would kindle the fire of a crushing civil war that would splinter Lebanon's unity and cancel its existence as a country.''
Fears of internal conflict were echoed by Fadi Frem, commander of the Christian ''Lebanese Forces'' militia. He predicted that the backlash by Syria and members of the pro-Syrian National Movement would plunge Lebanon back into turmoil.
''It is quite possible that security conditions will deteriorate in a while, and that the Syrians will not intervene directly in the first stage but that they would activate their agents present on the ground,'' Mr. Frem added.
The most serious clashes over the past eight months have occurred between the ''Lebanese Forces'' and the Druze militia loyal to Mr. Jumblatt, in the Shouf highlands region east of Beirut.
The agreement, however, is not the only issue. The leftists have long been demanding major government reforms that would readjust the balance of power held by rival Christian and Muslim sects.
This is likely to be a more fundamental motive for renewed fighting, since diplomats feel the Christian-dominated government can not afford to institute changes that would cause it to lose its hold on the more numerous Muslims.
The emergence of other anti-government groups, in addition to the already dizzying network of factions, may serve to further eat away at US hopes of stabilizing Lebanon after eight years of political chaos.
In the north, new Sunni Muslim fundamentalist groups, such as the Islamic Unionist Movement, have urged young militiamen not to hand over their weapons to the Lebanese government until there is political compensation. They have also been urged not to turn over their guns unless there are guarantees that there will be no mass arrests of dissidents, as happened to leftists after the deployment of the Army in West Beirut last fall.
And in the south, UN officials report the presence of underground Shiite Muslim groups, whom they believe to be responsible for some of the attacks on Israeli forces. There is some speculation that if the agreement is implemented these groups would try to attack the joint supervisory teams, including both Lebanese and Israelis, during security patrols.