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Beirut Blast Toll Now 75; Shias Buried in Mass Grave : Israel Denies Muslims' Charges of Responsibility in Car Bombing, but Some Mourners Revile It and U.S.

March 10, 1985|From Times Wire Services

BEIRUT — Mourning Shia Muslim families, followed by a procession of demonstrators shouting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans, Saturday buried victims of Friday's powerful car bomb explosion in a poor southern suburb of Beirut. The reported death toll rose overnight to 75 dead and at least 250 injured.

The protesters shook their fists and vented their rage at familiar targets, chanting "Death to America, death to Israel!" as the victims' bodies, wrapped in black cloth, were buried in a mass grave at a cemetery about a mile from the explosion site.

The blast, in the Shia district of Ghbaire, was the deadliest in Beirut since the suicide bombings of U.S. and French military headquarters in October, 1983, killed 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 French paratroopers.

Rescue workers dug three more bodies from a wrecked apartment building shortly before pallbearers bore the bodies of other victims to their graves.

A day after the attack, there was still no claim of responsibility. However, Israel's Cabinet secretary, Yossi Beilin, denied Lebanese Muslim accusations Saturday that his country had been behind the bombing.

"Israel has never had a hand in such an incident and will never have a hand in such an incident," he said, adding, "Israel has not used in the past, and will not use in the future, the abominable methods of terror."

Lebanese Education Minister Salim Hoss and other Lebanese Muslim leaders lodged accusations of Israeli responsibility a few hours after the bombing Friday but offered no evidence to support them. The Muslim leaders have charged Israel with responsibility for previous bombings, as well.

Israeli troops were the targets of a heavy shelling attack elsewhere in Lebanon much of Friday night and before dawn Saturday.

For 12 hours, guerrillas battered Israel's front line in the south with machine-gun and mortar fire at the Qasmiyeh Bridge over the Litani River, the northern boundary of Israel's now shrinking zone of occupation. Five Israeli soldiers were wounded, Israeli military and Western sources said. A sixth Israeli was also badly hurt.

Some Americans in Beirut expressed worry that the accusations against Israel, the chief U.S. ally in the region, may have perilous consequences for them.

"These things have a way of circling back on us," said an American teacher in Beirut, who refused to allow his name to be used. "In the minds of many Arabs, America is the devil incarnate and responsible for anything that goes wrong."

Another American, Jack Dagilaitis, a Baltimore native who has lived in Lebanon for the last 21 years, said that fear of a hostile Arab response to U.S. policy in the region is forcing him to consider leaving.

Referring to two major Shia Muslim groups, he said: "The connection between the American equipment and funds being used by the Israelis to maintain their occupation force, along with the attitude of Hezbollah (the fundamentalist Party of God) and Amal (militia) people implicating the United States in supporting Israel . . . are what we are fearful of."

In other developments, Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam met Lebanese Christian and Muslim leaders in Bikfaya, a Christian suburb northeast of Beirut, in an effort to mediate the continuing disagreement over political reforms. Christians still hold power in the Lebanese government out of proportion to their population, and Muslims, particularly the Shias, are seeking to right what they regard as an unfair imbalance.

Khaddam, an influential negotiator among the Lebanese factions, held talks with Christian Falangist President Amin Gemayel, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Shia Muslim chief Nabih Berri, and Premier Rashid Karami, a Sunni Muslim.

"I will not leave here until I finish (my mission)," Khaddam reportedly declared. "I have brought my pajamas with me."

At the cemetery where the bombing victims were being buried, most of the demonstrators and gunmen belonged to Amal and to Hezbollah.

A spiritual adviser to Hezbollah, the radical Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, was flanked by dozens of bodyguards. He addressed the crowd through a bullhorn, vowing to end American influence in Lebanon.

"We will protect the blood of the martyrs," he said. "Let your suffering congest in your hearts to bring down whoever wants America to rule this country."

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