PARIS — Elie Hobeika, a breakaway Christian militia leader toppled by forces loyal to Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, fled Beirut on Thursday and arrived in France, Lebanese and French sources in Paris said.
Hobeika, 28, his wife, Gina, and members of his family arrived in Paris at Le Bourget Airport, the sources said.
Hobeika and his entourage left Beirut for Cyprus aboard two Lebanese army helicopters late Thursday morning, the Voice of Free Lebanon said in Beirut. Officials in Cyprus said the party then boarded a private jet headed for Paris.
"He is coming because he did not want to be physically hurt," said the Paris correspondent of the Lebanese Christians' Voice of Lebanon radio. "His wife and child are with him."
Hobeika was trapped in his East Beirut headquarters Wednesday by Gemayel's Falangist Party troops and fighters loyal to the hard-line chief of staff of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea.
State-run Beirut radio said that about 250 of Hobeika's militiamen were taken to an army barracks, but it did not spell out their fate.
Hobeika, head of the largely Christian Lebanese Forces militia--accused of the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Chatilla camps in Beirut--signed a Syrian-backed peace pact Dec. 28 with Lebanon's two main Muslim militias.
Gemayel refused to sign the pact, and fierce fighting among rival Christian forces has rocked Beirut in recent days.
Shells Rain on Stronghold
On Thursday, Muslim militiamen who support the accord rained shells on Gemayel's mountain stronghold.
Plumes of dust and smoke rose above the Gemayel family fief of Bikfaya, and shells exploded at the rate of about 12 a minute as the pro-Syrian forces put heavy pressure on the Christian president.
In Bikfaya, villagers hid in basements as Muslim and leftist militiamen poured in artillery fire. "It's raining shells. . . . We couldn't sleep. This has gone on for 20 hours without respite," said one resident.
In Muslim West Beirut, militia sources said scores of Druze and leftist Muslim fighters were moving out of the city for a possible showdown in the mountains with the Christian president's men.
Militia sources in East Beirut said that Wednesday's battles for control of Lebanon's Christian community killed about 200 people and wounded 600.
Christian radio stations repeatedly appealed for blood donors after the fighting, which local newspapers described as a coup against the peace agreement.
Pact May Be Scuttled
Hobeika's departure would seem to scuttle the peace agreement signed less than a month ago between the Lebanese Forces and the pro-Syrian militias headed by Druze chief Walid Jumblatt and Amal leader Nabih Berri.
Hobeika's support for the Dec. 28 pact, which would give Muslims a greater share of political power, caused a split in Christian ranks, precipitating the bloody fighting in East Beirut.
Gemayel, in addition to withholding support for the militia pact, is known to have resented the importance accorded Hobeika as the Christians' spokesman in Damascus.