LEBANON'S REFUGEE CAMPS. Palestinians see liftof siege as Syrian bidto thwart PLO unity

Syria says its successes, so far, in lifting the siege of Beirut's Palestinian refugee camps heralds an end to the protracted conflict between the Palestinians and the Syrian-backed Shiite Amal militia. But Palestinian officials remain deeply suspicious of Syrian intentions. Some say the Syrians are acting mainly to defuse Arab pressures, and to head off moves to reunify the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Syrian intervention, however, has brought the promise of relief to the thousands of Palestinians in Shatila and Borj el-Barajneh camps. On Tuesday, Shatila's estimated 3,200 inhabitants were able to leave the camp for the first time since being beseiged by Amal last October, after 50 Syrian observers arrived to supervise a truce. Western medical staff inside Shatila said living conditions there had become increasingly desperate. Until last Sunday, only two food convoys had made it in; other efforts were abandoned after aid trucks came under fire. Under the Syrian-backed truce, a convoy was allowed in Sunday.

Similar moves were being planned yesterday to ease the situation at the nearby, bigger camp of Borj el-Barajneh, where at least 9,000 Palestinians have endured the five-month blockade.

Syria deployed some 7,000 troops in west Beirut Feb. 22, to impose a stringent new security plan to end militia rule. But until last weekend, they avoided contact with the camps, located in and near Beirut's Shiite suburbs. Syria decided not to carry out its security plan in those suburbs after Iran, Syria's main regional ally, backed the radical Hizbullah in opposing Syrian deployment there.

The question observers in Beirut are asking is: Why did Syria wait six weeks before intervening - and what made it decide to act now ?

One reason seems to be the strong pressure from the Arab world and further afield over the siege by Amal, regarded as Syria's closest ally and even proxy in Lebanon. Not only such mainstream Sunni states as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait but also Syria's radical allies, Iran and Liyba, voiced deep concern.

Analysts say Syria was all the more susceptible to the pressures because, in addition to its strong ties to Amal, the proximity of Syria's own forces put it in a position to influence the situation directly.

Arab moves came to a head last week. At a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Tunis, PLO sources say, Algeria held Syria directly responsible for the situation at the Beirut camps. PLO officials thus saw the Syrian moves to lift the blockade as being motivated primarily by the need to head off Arab intervention.

``The Syrians stepped in and let the trucks into the camps before ... to defuse Arab pressures,'' said one PLO official. ``They are not interested in any solutions which do not fit in with their policy and tactics.''

Some Palestinian sources also believed the Syrian step might be linked to the planned session of the PLO's parliament-in-exile, the Palestine National Council, scheduled to start April 20.

The gathering, held despite Syrian opposition, is expected to see some of the hard-line factions reconciled with Yasser Arafat's mainstream Fatah group after a four-year breach. The ``camps war'' has been a factor working for Palestinian unity, since even pro-Syrian groups joined Mr. Arafat's men to defend the camps.

``By making concessions in Lebanon, the Syrians are now trying to persuade those groups which are wavering, such as George Habash's Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine], not to attend the PNC meeting,'' one PLO source said. -30-{et

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