Specter of heightened civil war hangs over Lebanon. After Christian boycott, Muslims vow to reject interim cabinet

Lebanon was plunged deeper into crisis yesterday as its parliament again failed to elect a successor to President Amin Gemayel, whose term ends today. The special election session of parliament was postponed until today in the hope that Maronite Christian deputies could be persuaded to turn up and provide the necessary quorum.

But with grave doubts hanging over the prospects for the election, Mr. Gemayel was reported to be preparing to announce late yesterday the formation of a transitional government to which he could transfer his powers.

The interim Cabinet was expected to be headed by a Maronite Christian prime minister, Pierre Helou, a businessman and member of parliament. By tradition, the premiership is held by a Sunni Muslim, while the Lebanese president is a Christian.

Informed sources said the proposed new cabinet would be built around the current, deeply divided government headed by acting Prime Minister Selim Hoss. But Lebanon's Muslim leadership, encouraged by Syria, was expected to refuse to participate.

The move seemed likely to aggravate tensions still further. Shortly after the speaker of parliament announced the postponement of the election session yesterday, shelling and firing broke out along the line dividing Christian and Muslim Beirut, with shells falling near the old parliament building in the downtown Place de l''Etoile.

[The Associated Press also reports that Daoud Daoud and Mahmoud Fakih, top officials of the Shiite Muslim Amal militia, were killed ``instantly'' when a rocket-propelled grenade fired by unknown assailants hit their car in Syrian-policed south Beirut.

[Mr. Daoud and Mr. Fakih, whose Amal movement is backed by Syria, led a crackdown on pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalists in south Lebanon earlier this year. That operation ousted the extremist Hizbullah, or Party of God, from most of the southern villages.]

The fighting yesterday died down after a cease-fire was agreed to by the rival militias. But the outburst raised fears that the gathering political confrontation could spark a wider explosion of violence.

The parliamentary building itself had become a symbol of the struggle between hard-line Christians and their Syrian-backed opponents.

When the speaker of parliament, Hussein al-Husseini, announced that the last-chance election session was to be held there, Christian deputies saw it as a provocation to them, as the building is just on the Muslim side of the line.

A large group of Christian deputies who had been conferring at the Maronite patriarchate 20 miles north of Beirut, repeated their demand that the venue be moved back to the Villa Mansour, the site of all parliamentary meetings since 1976. The Christian deputies said they did not consider it safe for them to travel to the traditional building in the Place de l''Etoile.

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