Beirut's 'green line,' a symbol of division, returns
Beirut — The pink secondary school in Borj el Barajneh in Beirut's southern suburbs is surrounded by the ruins of the past six days of fighting: massive shell holes in dwellings, roofs caved in, broken glass and concrete everywhere. This desperate scene led a former premier touring the area to weep openly.
Inside the school Tuesday, hallways were filled with Lebanese Army soldiers, lined up to give their names and hand in their United States-made M-16 rifles to the Shiite Muslim militia Amal.
Military sources conceded later that at least 40 percent of the US-trained Army had defected peacefully, either confining themselves to barracks or joining the opposition outright. The long lines of weapons neatly stacked against the wall and the piles of bayonets on the floor reflected the dimensions of the loss to the Lebanese government.
By Tuesday, the takeover of Muslim west Beirut was complete. The opposition forces of Amal, the Druze Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), and other smaller Muslim militias held control. The Lebanese Army was still on the streets, but it was working hand in hand with Amal soldiers who brought their US-made tanks and armored personnel carriers with them.
On several corners there were festive reunions, backslapping, big smiles, and double-cheek kisses in the Arab fashion as men of the same religion, who had been on opposing sides until three days ago, greeted each other.
The government of President Amin Gemayel still controlled Christian east Beirut. But it somehow made the loss of west Beirut even more devastating, for the famous ''green line'' once again divided the capital, much as Berlin is divided. The resurrected barrier underlined the defeat of the policies of the Lebanese and US governments over the past 18 months.
The mood was so grim that when asked if Lebanon was salvageable, a Western diplomat paused, then responded: ''That's a hard one.'' A source close to the negotiations to end the latest crisis could offer only a futile ''everyone is trying to put a lid on this thing.''
Sergeant Omar, a Sunni Muslim, was among those who turned themselves in to the Amal forces at the schoolhouse. An unusual Lebanese, Omar has bright red hair and freckles that contrast sharply with the green beret that marked his status as a commando of the elite 10th Brigade Special Forces Unit. He spoke earnestly of his anger at discrimination against Muslims within the Christian-dominated government. ''Now we're relaxed,'' he said. ''Now we're waiting for our rights,'' a reference to the fact the defections are seen as one of the last ways to pressure the government into accepting reforms.
The bitterness among Muslims is almost at a breaking point, especially in light of the brutal assault by the Army on west Beirut Monday night. Driving along the empty streets the next day, one saw the evidence of the extent of the damage. Unclaimed bodies lay in front of apartment blocks.
The hospital at the American University was so swamped that doctors set up emergency operating areas in the entrance hall. Many victims were said to have died because they could not reach clinics. The shoot-on-sight curfew and street fighting made travel extremely dangerous.
By late morning, a comparative calm had been restored as Amal took control, except for isolated pockets of artillery and small-arms confrontations, mainly around the green line.
Slowly a semblance of order was restored - in Lebanese terms - as Amal dispatched water and fuel trucks for those trapped with no electricity. The few who dared take to the streets were not hassled at checkpoints, now manned by Army and Amal troops. There were no signs of looting, even in stores whose fronts had been blown away.
Only one embassy complained of harassment. The Pakistani ambassador sent a cable to Islamabad that ''Amal gunmen today attacked the chancery, beating up our driver and taking over two cars. They also took my guns. . . . They have threatened to kill Pakistanis. Please ask the Pakistani representative in Damascus to contact (Druze leader) Walid Jumblatt and (Amal leader) Nabih Berri.''
Amal spokesman Ali Hamdan said Amal did not want to put many militiamen on the streets. ''We don't want an exhibition, or to provoke a battle. We are trying as hard as we can to establish calm in Beirut.''
He said Amal had asked Army defectors, particularly those from the 6th Brigade, to reorganize themselves so they could take over responsibility for law and order in west Beirut.
''We are not asking them to work under us. We are not asking to establish a state of Amal. We are only trying to amend the policies of the Lebanese government.''
Indeed, in a broadcast over state radio, now under Amal's control, Mr. Berri ordered that there be no attacks on embassies or foreign civilians, and particularly on the multinational force (MNF). Showing who is now in control, he offered a final cease-fire to the entire Army.
Amal moved even closer to the US Marine contingent Tuesday, taking over control of the nearby Pepsi plant. Druze official Marwan Hamadeh gave a speech as the Amal and PSP flags were hoisted over the building in a bizarre ceremony. ''If the Americans come as our enemies, we don't need them. If they come as our friends, we need them,'' Mr. Hamadeh said.
The MNF became a common subject of discussion and speculation Tuesday. ''So far they have been more or less neutral,'' Amal's Mr. Hamdan. ''As long as they remain neutral, we will not act against them.''
But, as an MNF officer said, ''I don't see any reason for the MNF to stay. We came in support of the Lebanese government and Army. They are not here (in west Beirut) any longer. Why should we remain? It's folly.''
With their conquest of west Beirut, it now seems clear that the opposition forces will not compromise easily. Walid Jumblatt said, ''The battles are going to go on even if this leads to the ruin of Lebanon. The resignation of Gemayel is the strict minimum for a cease-fire.''
Yet there seemed no sense of political reprieve despite the frantic pace of activity around the presidential palace, which seemed overcome by a sense of loss and bewilderment about what to do. The tragedy of Lebanon was summed up by one person involved: ''We simply have no answers yet.''