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Palestinians Make Last Stand at Beirut Refugee Camps

May 25, 1985|Associated Press

BEIRUT — Shia Muslim militiamen closed in on Palestinians making a last stand in the shattered Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps Friday, and assaulted another sprawling complex that is the last guerrilla stronghold in Beirut.

"It's a big battle. It looks like they're trying to storm in. Our fighters are holding," a Palestinian spokesman said by telephone from the Borj el Brajne camp in south Beirut.

He said the Amal militia assaulted the camp at dusk behind tank fire from a Shia army brigade, after six days of firing into it from the perimeter. There are an estimated 3,000 Palestinian fighters in Borj el Brajne.

At the Sabra camp, 1 1/2 miles to the north, a handful of Palestinians blazed away at hundreds of militiamen and Shia army regulars advancing through the rubble behind heavy tank and machine-gun fire.

'Foot by Foot'

"We're fighting foot by foot. They're putting up a hell of a fight," an Amal militia officer said in a smoke-filled alleyway 20 yards from the Palestinians' last bastion behind a block of riddled houses.

"A lot of the Palestinians sneaked out last night. They left these guys here to fight us. I think they're dead men," he said.

A Palestinian spokesman said by telephone: "This looks like the final assault in Sabra. Amal is closing in behind a murderous barrage of 6th Brigade tank fire. We've lost large chunks of the camp."

The guerrillas who left Sabra apparently slipped through the Shia lines by a network of tunnels they are known to have built years ago under it and the adjoining Chatilla camp. Amal militiamen said they believed the Palestinians took refuge atBorj el Brajne.

Police reported at least 12 people killed and 110 wounded Friday. At least 100 bodies from earlier battles were removed from the camps by civil defense teams and taken to hospital morgues already filled with corpses.

At Least 338 Dead

That raised the known casualty toll to least 338 killed and 1,473 wounded since the Shias assaulted the camps Sunday to keep the Palestinians from regaining the Lebanon power base they lost in the 1982 Israeli invasion.

Amal had pushed deep into Chatilla by Friday, aided by armor and Shia soldiers from the Lebanese army's 6th Brigade. The combined forces stormed strongpoints--pressing the Palestinians into a small area, pounding them with rocket-propelled grenades and fire from 106-millimeter recoilless rifles.

Gunfire and shell explosions were incessant around the Palestinians at Sabra. The roar echoed through alleys filled with the opaque haze of smoke and ash, littered with shell casings, stinking garbage and burned-out cars.

Shia fighters sat in one alleyway with looted soft drinks, yards from the fighting, black Islamic headbands pulled across their faces to keep out the choking smoke from burning buildings.

Rockets From Hills

Palestinian gunners in the hills east of Beirut continued to lob rockets into Shia districts. Militia officers said 12 of them exploded around Amal leader Nabih Berri's home in the Barbour district of West Beirut.

They said the rockets caused extensive damage and destroyed 12 cars, but did not injure Berri or the Amal officials with whom he was meeting at the time.

The Shia 6th Brigade joined the fight Wednesday when it became clear that Amal could not drive the Palestinians out on its own.

Shia militiamen and the Palestinians are former allies in Lebanon's sectarian civil war, but the Shia population of south Lebanon suffered when the Palestinians controlled the area and many Shias welcomed the Israelis in 1982.

Shias Harass Israelis

The relationship changed, and Shia guerrillas have been harassing the Israeli withdrawal, which is to be completed next month. Amal fears that a resumption of Palestinian raids from Lebanon would bring Israeli reprisal raids on Shia villages in the south.

Shias of the 6th Brigade have been under orders from Berri, who is Lebanon's justice minister, since they rebelled against their Christian commanders. Defense Ministry sources refuse to discuss the brigade's actions.

In Damascus, pro-Syrian Palestinian leaders rejected a cease-fire proposed in negotiations sponsored by Syria's vice president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam.

Amal wants the guerrillas to turn over their weapons to the 6th Brigade, which would handle security in the camps. The pro-Syrian groups insist that Amal withdraw and let Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt's men patrol the camps.

In Christian East Beirut, police said they found four more bodies in an area devastated by a car bomb Wednesday, raising the known death toll to 41, with 17 still missing and believed dead. Nearly 200 people were wounded.

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