SIDON, Lebanon — Palestinians and Muslims battled for 10 hours against Christian and pro-Israeli militiamen near here Saturday, with 17 people killed and 110 wounded, security sources said.
At the same time, Israeli troops raided Shia Muslim villages 10 miles southeast of Sidon, with Lebanese security sources reporting 14 people dead and 40 wounded. The Israelis acknowledged killing four guerrillas.
Lebanese security sources said a 60-vehicle Israeli force stormed the villages of Kfar Fila, Jbaa and Ein Souwar on the edge of Israel's occupation zone in southern Lebanon. The sources said the Israeli assault began an hour after several Israeli soldiers were injured by a roadside bomb that hit a convoy near Jbaa, 10 miles southeast of Sidon.
The Israeli force later withdrew from the three villages after damaging a number of houses, the sources added.
In Tel Aviv, an Israeli military spokesman said troops searched for gunmen and weapons in Jbaa.
"During the operation, the soldiers fired at a car whose driver refused to heed an order to stop," the spokesman said. "Four terrorists were killed, and a large quantity of hand grenades and automatic rifles was found in the vehicle."
The Israeli spokesman said that the Israelis encountered Lebanese army troops during the operation but that the Lebanese soldiers left the village without incident.
Witnesses said Lebanese army troops also stood aside during the sectarian battle on Sidon's eastern outskirts. That fighting, which resumed at dawn, sent thousands of refugees from the Palestinian camps of Ein el Hilwa and Miye ou Miye fleeing toward Sidon, along with residents of nearby districts.
Elie Karameh, president of the Christian Falangist Party, said Friday that the Sidon clashes could lead to a major sectarian war like that between Druze and Christians in 1983, which drove 150,000 Christians from their homes near Beirut in the Shouf and Aley districts.
In Beirut, Premier Rashid Karami and Shia leader Nabih Berri accused Israel of inciting the fighting to frighten Sidon's Christian minority into moving south to create a buffer zone for Israel's northern border.
"What is happening is meant to get Christians out of Sidon and (the Christian town of) Jezzine and move them to the border strip, in exchange for driving Shias from the border strip north," Berri said.
Israeli forces, now in the process of withdrawing from southern Lebanon, have suffered increasing attacks recently from Shia Muslim guerrillas. As they withdraw, the Israelis seek to set up a buffer zone to prevent attacks by Palestinian guerrillas on northern Israel. The buffer zone would be patrolled by a Christian-led Lebanese militia armed and paid by the Israelis.