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Muslims Attack After Gemayel Defeats Rivals

January 16, 1986|Associated Press

BEIRUT — President Amin Gemayel's militia defeated pro-Syrian Christian rivals Wednesday in a showdown that killed 100 people, and hours later, Muslim forces backed by Syria attacked Lebanon's Christian heartland.

The attack on Christian territory north and east of Beirut was seen as the Syrian response to Gemayel's victory in a 10-hour showdown with tanks, artillery and gunboats. Gemayel has balked at a Syrian-brokered peace plan for Lebanon.

The Muslim and leftist gunmen moved behind artillery barrages against Christian units of the Lebanese army, according to reports from the army and state-owned media.

Gemayel's forces defeated Elie Hobeika, chief of the Lebanese Forces militia, who challenged the Maronite Catholic president for leadership of Lebanon's 1.5 million Christians. Military sources said Hobeika surrendered to the Lebanese army commander.

Army Units Under Attack

A military communique said three soldiers were killed and five wounded when the Syrian-backed attackers later "attempted to take over army positions." Defense Ministry sources said army units killed 30 attacking militiamen.

State-owned radio and television stations reported that the assault force was moving east and north from territory controlled by the Syrian army in Lebanon's central mountains into the stronghold of Gemayel's Falangist Party militia in the Metn region northeast of Beirut.

The state radio said three villages east of Bikfaya were captured by the advancing force, believed made up of militiamen of the Syrian National Social Party, a Lebanese faction loyal to Syria.

The Muslim push threatened to rekindle the civil war that had dwindled into sporadic clashes since a peace accord was signed.

Gemayel opposes the agreement Syria negotiated with the Lebanese Forces and the country's two most powerful Muslim militias in an attempt to end the decade-long war, which has cost at least 100,000 lives.

It would give Muslims more power in the government and military, which traditionally have been dominated by Christians. It was signed Dec. 28 in Damascus by Hobeika, leader of the largest Christian militia; Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt, and Nabih Berri, leader of the Shia Muslim militia Amal.

The battle Gemayel's forces won was the heaviest between Christian factions in nearly five years. Hobeika's much larger force had Gemayel's Falangist Party gunmen on the run only two days earlier, but then Hobeika's second-in-command joined the president and took half of the Lebanese Forces militiamen with him.

Gemayel's militia and defecting Lebanese Forces gunmen led by Hobeika's chief of staff, Samir Geagea, attacked the Hobeika loyalists at dawn. Hobeika's 6,000 men had outnumbered the Falangist fighters 6-to-1, but Geagea's desertion left him facing a superior force.

Falangist radio stations called it the "final showdown" of the long power struggle between Gemayel, who has become increasingly isolated in recent months, and Hobeika, 29, a former bank clerk.

Militia sources said that most of the more than 100 people killed and the 300 wounded in the daylong battles were combatants.

Schools, Factories Hit

Fighting engulfed East Beirut, the capital's Christian sector, and the Christian heartland north and northeast of the city. Apartment blocks, schools and factories were reported hit by shellfire.

The main thrust was against Hobeika's "war council" headquarters in East Beirut's Karantina quarter overlooking the harbor. Military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Gemayel's men pounded the four-story complex with fire from tanks and gunboats from Geagea's main base in the ancient port of Byblos, 22 miles north of Beirut.

They said Hobeika radioed the army commander, Gen. Michel Aoun, from his underground command post at 1.30 p.m. to report hand-to-hand fighting at his headquarters and announce his surrender.

Aoun sent two armored personnel carriers to evacuate Hobeika and his aides and appealed for the militia leader's life to be spared, the sources said. An army spokesman said that Lebanese soldiers stayed out of the fighting but had orders to shoot back if fired upon.

Whereabouts Unknown

Sources in Hobeika's militia said that Gemayel's Falangists kept the army vehicles from reaching their leader while they mopped up pockets of resistance. Hobeika's whereabouts after his surrender was not known.

It was the second battle between the Lebanese Forces and Falangists this week. Hobeika's men overran Falangist positions in East Beirut and Gemayel's mountain stronghold in the Metn region northeast of the capital on Monday. Police said 21 people were killed and 60 wounded.

Gemayel met Monday in Damascus with President Hafez Assad of Syria, who maintains 25,000 soldiers in Lebanon and is the country's main power broker.

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