Syria tries to dampen Lebanon fires
Four months after Lebanon's warlords agreed on a reconciliation pact, this nation's differences are only deepening. ''It's crazy, there's nothing they won't fight over,'' says one Western diplomat.
He was referring to a wave of hijackings in recent weeks of trucks laden with foodstuffs, fuel, medicine, water, and building materials as various factions try to deprive their opponents of supplies.
At the same time, shelling, sniping, and machine-gun exchanges have become fiercer, reflecting disputes within the Cabinet of Muslim and Christian rivals.
By Monday the situation had deteriorated to the point that Syria dispatched Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam to Lebanon. After 12 hours of talks with the Cabinet he announced ''an agreement on a number of issues that will help the regime in Lebanon to overcome the present situation and to move the country into a new situation.''
Political sources said the details were to be ironed out at a Cabinet meeting today, but the basic terms include:
* Reunification of the fragmented Army, which split along religious lines during the February battle that also redivided the capital. The balance of the officer corps would be more equally distributed, with special attention to the intelligence agencies controlled by the Maronite Christians. A six-member committee would supervise the reunification.
* Deployment of the Army to remove militia posts, reopening Beirut's dividing ''green line'' as well as its airport, which has been closed since February.
* Establishment of a committee to draft a new constitution based on resolutions reached at the Lausanne summit. The constitution would give at least equal power to the majority Muslim community in a government traditionally dominated by minority Christians.
The agreement was quickly dubbed ''the Bikfaya accord'' after the mountain town north of Beirut where President Amin Gemayel has a summer home and is the only place deemed safe enough by all sides for Cabinet sessions.
None of the ideas were new, underlining the fact that the formula has been on the table for months. The problem has been the lack of will among both Christians and Muslims to carry through with proposals, leading to repeated cease-fire breakdowns.
Since the Lausanne summit, Syrian President Hafez Assad has regularly summoned faction chiefs to prod them into the kind of personal commitment that has been lacking. Mr. Khaddam's journey to Lebanon, the first such venture since the Lausanne talks, is indicative of the Syrians failure so far, Arab envoys in Beirut say. Syria has been the dominant power broker in Lebanon since the United States resigned its major role in February.
Over the weekend, Damascus issued a warning to Beirut through the state-controlled media. The daily Tishreen, which serves as a mouthpiece for the Assad government, said: ''Syria is now determined to employ any method and to use all means in order to achieve this great national goal of reconciliation. Syrian support has no limits.''
Khaddam told reporters after the Bikfaya talks that the issue of sending Syrian troops to Lebanon ''was not a subject for discussion.'' But sources within the ruling Baath Party in Damascus said last week that there was ''deep anxiety'' within the Assad regime about security breakdowns and political lethargy in Lebanon.
And one key party source did not rule out the possibility of dispatching troops if the Lebanese were unable to gain control over the situation.
Syrian officialdom does not favor the option, but the political reputation of President Assad is now on the line with the Lebanese initiative.
Expressing the deep frustration of many Lebanese civilians, a hard-hitting editorial in the Beirut newspaper Daily Star blasted the government's ''persistent hope that, no matter how bad things get, Lebanon will be rescued from itself by some outside power.
''This abdication of responsibility for the collective folly of Lebanese who plead for foreign intervention, and then blame the totality of Lebanon's ills upon outsiders, is without doubt the most childish attitude of all.''
And it criticized all factional leaders: ''Lebanese leaders talk a great deal of democracy. On each occasion that they do, those who are unfortunate to be led by them wonder whether this time it will mean car-bomb democracy or 155 howitzer democracy, voluntary contributions democracy, and the truly democratic hand grenades delivered democratically at the dead of night to those who resist democratic extortion.''