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2 U.S. Warships Sail, Possibly Toward Beirut

March 09, 1985|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The State Department said Friday that it is taking very seriously a flurry of threats by Islamic extremists against U.S. diplomats in Beirut. Two U.S. warships cut short a port call in Spanish territory and put to sea, possibly headed toward the Lebanese capital.

"Let me make it very clear that embassy personnel are not being evacuated from Lebanon," State Department spokesman Edward Djerejian said. "Obviously, we continue to be concerned about the security of U.S. government personnel in Lebanon and have their safety and their interests continually under review."

Another State Department official, who declined to be identified, later elaborated on Djerejian's statement: "We are not evacuating--present tense."

Some Sailors Left Behind

The Pentagon said that the aircraft carrier Eisenhower and the accompanying cruiser Mississippi left the island of Majorca, Spanish territory about 150 miles from the mainland in the Balearic Islands, three days ahead of schedule Thursday. They are now at sea in the western Mediterranean. A U.S. official said 110 of the Eisenhower's 6,000 crew were left behind when they could not be located before the abrupt departure.

The Pentagon declined to disclose the destination of the ships, but there was speculation they would stand by off Lebanon in case the situation heats up further. CBS News said two U.S. C-130 transport planes, which could be used for an evacuation, arrived Friday in Cyprus.

Several Shia Muslim groups have threatened to attack Americans if the United States, as expected, vetoes a U.N. Security Council resolution censuring Israel for military actions against civilians in Lebanon. The most recent such threat was made earlier this week.

The extremists have also threatened to attack Americans because of overall U.S. support for Israel.

Beirut Embassy Complement

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut has already sent home all but essential personnel. The State Department declined to say how many diplomats remain in the Lebanese capital, but the number is thought to be small.

The department said about 1,400 American civilians remain in Beirut, most of them dual nationals holding both U.S. and Lebanese citizenship or the spouses of Lebanese citizens. Since January, the government has advised Americans to stay out of Lebanon.

U.S. personnel assigned to U.N. operations in southern Lebanon were instructed earlier this week to remain at their homes in northern Israel because of death threats against them.

"We do, indeed, take the threat seriously and we shared our concerns with U.N. headquarters in New York," Djerejian said. "However, the Americans were under U.N. command, and the decision to withdraw them or not was the responsibility of the United Nations."

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