Lebanese opposition blames US actions for its own military push
The United States is hindering a resolution of the Lebanese crisis, rather than helping find a solution, Muslim and Druze leaders say. They have become highly critical of US policy on three fronts:
* Leaks from Washington-based officials about alleged progress, most recently involving an eight-point Saudi plan that President Amin Gemayel was said to have accepted. Opposition leaders say the plan is little more than an agenda of issues and does not represent a new initiative.
* The US State Department's strong stand behind the May 17 troop withdrawal agreement between Israel and Lebanon, repeated again on the very day Mr. Gemayel was expected to announce its abrogation. Some political circles say this weakened his resolve.
* Continued bombardment by the US Sixth Fleet of antigovernment forces, which the US is theoretically supposed to be negotiating with. They say this has hurt US credibility as an honest broker by heightening anti-American sentiment among Muslims.
''US policy, if there is one, is very unfortunate. It has grown to be counterproductive,'' a former prime minister said. ''I don't understand it.''
They charged that conflicting signals and a lack of direction in US policy have forced the Muslims to push ahead on the military front. Indeed, by early Thursday, the Druze and Shiite Muslim factions had pushed the Lebanese Army back another five miles along the coastal road to Damour.
And there is a tightening squeeze around the Shouf mountain town of Souk al Gharb, the last line of defense for Christian east Beirut.
Still more units of the Lebanese Army fell apart, retreating to Sidon, joining the opposition, or fleeing south to Israeli-held territory. The remainder were evacuated by boat from Damour, leaving behind tanks and equipment. A source in the multinational force claimed the Army appealed to the Marines to help evacuate their tanks, but was turned down.
With each day that passes without a political breakthrough, the danger increases that all attempts will be overrun by military events on the ground.
''Everything changes here not day to day but hour to hour. What is a solution today may not be a solution tomorrow,'' another former prime minister said.
What has most perplexed Muslims is the report of an eight-point plan. ''(Saudi-appointed mediator) Rafik Hariri brought it here, but this is nothing, '' said a former premier. ''It is just a list of things to be discussed. It does not include the drastic steps Lebanon needs to take now.''
Adding that it was ''flimsy,'' the former official, who has a record of being pro-US and was among those consulted by Hariri, said the ''agenda'' would probably no longer be sufficient in light of the military victories by the Druze and Shiite Muslims after Hariri's departure.
Opposition leaders were also concerned about Secretary of State George Shultz's statement Wednesday backing the Lebanese-Israeli accord.
Explaining why Gemayel did not give the expected speech Wednesday outlining concessions to end the conflict between the Muslim majority and minority Christian leadership, another former premier said: ''The US pulled the strings back. A little encouragement would have done it, but instead there was public discouragement.''
''Gemayel was misled by the US,'' a leading Muslim official said. ''They gave him the false impression they would back him'' and then pulled the carpet out from under him.
When the crisis erupted last week, Muslim leaders said there was minimal contact between the US team and the various figures in west Beirut. They used words such as ''insignificant,'' and ''meaningless'' to describe the conversations.
Although there is all-around pessimism about the prospects of a political settlement, there is still a glimmer of hope among most Muslims that some plan may prevent the use of force to wrest concessions from the beleaguered but stubborn Gemayel administration.
But signs of the deep divisions increase daily. One is the formation of an ''alternative'' Lebanese Army command, announced by the Druze and Shiite factions.