BEIRUT — Forces loyal to President Amin Gemayel overpowered the troops of militia leader Elie Hobeika in an all-out struggle among Christian factions today, dealing a likely death blow to a Syrian-negotiated pact to end Lebanon's civil war.
Hobeika, the only Christian leader to sign the Dec. 28 pact, surrendered to Army Commander Gen. Michel Aoun after eight hours of battles that centered on his underground bunker at the headquarters of the divided Lebanese Forces militia in East Beirut's Karantina quarter.
Muslim gunners, who favor the pact, took advantage of the struggle to launch attacks on Christian positions from Syrian-controlled areas east of Beirut once it became clear that the battle had turned against Hobeika.
Hundreds of Casualties
Militia sources reported hundreds of casualties in the inter-Christian fighting launched by forces loyal to Gemayel and to Lebanese Forces Chief of Staff Samir Geagea--a fierce opponent of the accord that would reduce Gemayal's powers.
Geagea and Gemayel's forces were estimated at 5,000 while Hobeika--a former Lebanese Forces chief of intelligence who became chairman of the militia's executive committee--had command of about 2,000 men.
At one stage of the battle, rival gunmen fought from room to room with drawn bayonets as Hobeika took refuge with top aides in the underground bunker at Karantina. Cars and buildings were set ablaze by explosions, militia sources said.
Gunboats shelled the white stone bunker complex from the harbor and both sides fought with U.S-made Super Sherman tanks, mortars, anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank rockets.
No Syrian Comment
There was no immediate comment from Syria, which brokered the peace agreement signed by Hobeika and two Muslim militia leaders.
Militia sources said Muslim leaders who signed the agreement designed to end nearly 11 years of civil war held urgent talks to decide how to respond to the crisis.
The fighting climaxed a deepening split within Christian ranks and indicated the extent of opposition to the Christian-Muslim militia pact that Hobeika tried to impose on the Christian community despite strong objections.