The issue behind the Bekaa mutiny: should the PLO talk or fight?
Cairo — Senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization hold Syria and Libya responsible for a mutiny among Palestinian guerrilla fighters in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
Public accusations leveled against Syria and Libya coincide with Libyan charges that PLO chief Yasser Arafat plotted together with United States intelligence services to assassinate Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
Libya's official news agency reported the accusation at the same time that an unknown Palestinian group issued a communique in Cairo in support of the rebelling guerrilla fighters in eastern Lebanon.
The mutiny by five senior military officials of Al Fatah - the largest Palestinian guerrilla group, headed by Mr. Arafat - was sparked by the appointment of two officers reputed to have fled battle during last year's Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
But the mutiny has developed into possibly the most serious conflict within the Palestinian resistance movement over attempts by the PLO leadership to negotiate a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The communique, issued by the ''Committee for the Defense of the Palestine National Charter'' in support of the PLO rebels, was delivered May 26 to the Cairo office of the French news agency Agence France Press.
The communique, datelined Amman, Jordan, called on the PLO leadership to ''intensify the liberation struggle in all its forms, particularly the armed struggle, and to end the illusion of a political struggle.''
It also demanded the punishment of ''the deviationists who fled the siege of Beirut and have now taken over sensitive positions within the PLO'' - a reference to the appointment of Abu Hajim as overall commander of the Fatah forces in Lebanon and of Haj Ismail as commander of the northern sector. The appointment of these two men is believed to have caused the mutiny. They are both known for their loyalty to Mr. Arafat but their military performance during last year's Lebanon war is strongly questioned within Palestinian ranks.
AFP quoted the men, who refused to reveal their identities, as saying that the committee ''comprises Palestinian militants of varying political and ideological allegiances whose aim is to correct the errors committed by the present PLO leadership.''
Senior PLO sources in Jordan, Egypt, and Western Europe, however, said they did not know what the committee is and whom it represents. But observers point out that the Palestine national charter, the PLO's constitution to which the committee's name refers, calls for both continued armed struggle against Israel and the destruction of the ''Zionist entity.''
Al Fatah sources say that the rebels in the Bekaa Valley number no more than 100 men. Rebel sources claim they have the support of approximately 500 guerrilla fighters.
Senior PLO officials describe the mutiny as ''serious'' but are confident that Mr. Arafat will survive this latest challenge.
They now openly accuse both Syria and Libya of instigating the mutiny in an attempt to force Mr. Arafat to abandon his efforts to achieve negotiations on a settlement in the Middle East.
''The Syrians and the Libyans want to strangle our attempts to conduct an independent policy,'' said an Arafat aide.
Earlier, the PLO accused Libya of having given $7.5 million to the PLO rebels in the Bekaa Valley.
Libya escalated the war of words with the PLO May 26 by accusing Mr. Arafat of direct involvement in an alleged US plot to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Qaddafi.
Libya also charged that Mr. Arafat's decision to evacuate the PLO from Beirut last year had been ''irresponsible.'' Colonel Qaddafi irked Arafat during last summer's Israeli siege of west Beirut by stating the Palestinians should commit suicide rather than abandon the Lebanese capital.
The official Libyan news agency Jana also blamed Mr. Arafat for swinging the PLO from ''the extreme left to the extreme right.'' Mr. Arafat, Jana said, ''enabled the Zionist scheme in Palestine to achieve its strategic aims by his continuous plots'' - a charge in line with implicit claims by the PLO rebels that Mr. Arafat is squandering Palestinian rights by his flirtation with conservative Arab states and his efforts to establish a dialogue with the US.
The Fatah central committee decided earlier this week to cut off the food and fuel supplies to the PLO rebels in the Bekaa Valley. PLO sources quote Abu Jihad , the PLO's deputy commander in chief as saying: ''Let them get their pay from Qaddafi.''
Although Mr. Arafat's position as leader of the PLO and symbol of the Palestinian revolution does not appear to be in danger, some PLO officials as well as Arab and Western diplomats fear that the mutiny may cost him his freedom of movement.