BEIRUT — Lebanon's caretaker Premier Rashid Karami returned Friday from talks in Syria aimed at restoring peace in Beirut and possibly saving his coalition Cabinet.
However, despite indications quoted by Karami that Syrian President Hafez Assad is prepared to help end bitter fighting between Muslim militias, the future of Karami's administration remained seriously in doubt.
Speaking in sketchy terms about his two days of talks with Assad and other Syrian leaders, Karami said:
"I got the impression from his excellency, the president, that he is ready to take all necessary moves to safeguard the march of Beirut nationalists. Our most important concern now is the security of the people."
The premier added in a statement on local radio stations, "Views were harmonious and specific for action to preserve the dignity and security of Beirut."
Karami and his entire Cabinet resigned Wednesday amid the "horrific nightmare" of house-to-house fighting in Beirut between the Sunni Muslim militia Murabitoun and an alliance of Amal, the main Shia Muslim fighting group, and the Druze, a Muslim offshoot. The Syrians have pressed Karami to stay in office to avert further combat.
Shia political sources said Karami told Assad on Friday that he would withdraw his resignation or form a new Cabinet only if security duties in Muslim West Beirut are returned to trusted neutral forces--the paramilitary police and the army.
If Karami changes his mind and agrees to stay on, there would be ample precedent. Lebanese premiers have often resigned in the past as a tactical device, a way of extracting political concessions they could not otherwise obtain.
Syrian officials have stopped short of publicly taking sides in this dispute. There has been speculation, however, that Damascus is willing to let the fighting continue as a way of humbling the Murabitoun, an ally of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, whom the Syrians oppose.
The Murabitoun--whose name means Ambushers--and most PLO fighters are Sunnis, as is Karami. The premier quit after a crackdown against them.
Karami discussed his trip by phone with President Amin Gemayel. State television had earlier quoted the influential leader of the Amal militia, Cabinet minister Nabih Berri, as saying that if Gemayel allows the coalition to resign, he will press for Gemayel's ouster, as well.
On the streets of West Beirut, meanwhile, a 300-man joint strike force of Amal and Druze militias patrolled neighborhoods, as well as the Palestinian camps to the south. They maintained a tenuous peace, with only sporadic shooting heard.
Earlier, the Lebanese vice president of the American University of Beirut was released unharmed, 24 hours after being kidnaped from his home, the university announced.
George Sayegh, acting vice president for administration, was freed under mysterious circumstances late Thursday evening. State radio quoted him as saying only that he believed his abduction was a case of "mistaken identity."