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Syrian Paratroops Separate East Lebanon Combatants

June 16, 1986|Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syrian army commandos Sunday separated warring leftists and Iranian-backed Muslim fundamentalists in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, halting three days of fighting that killed 25 people and wounded about 130.

Syrian paratroops rolled into the Bekaa town of Mashgharah in armored personnel carriers and halftracks shortly after midnight Saturday. They halted a savage battle between the Syrian-allied Syrian National Social Party and Hezbollah (Party of God), an extremist Shia faction backed by Iran.

Rare Move for Syria

The Syrians did not use tanks, apparently to avoid a confrontation with Israel, police said. It was the first time that Syrian soldiers had moved into a southeastern Lebanese town since Israel's military withdrawal from Lebanon a year ago.

Mashgharah is six miles north of the so-called security zone that Israel has maintained in southern Lebanon since withdrawing the bulk of its occupation army last June.

At the time, Israeli leaders warned the Syrian army against moving into vacated areas. Syria maintains up to 30,000 troops in northern and eastern Lebanon under a 1976 peacekeeping mandate from the Arab League.

Police said Syria's move on Sunday was of peacekeeping nature and would not provoke military friction with Israel.

Kidnapings, Killings

The fighting was touched off by the killing of two leaders of the Syrian National Social Party a day after they were kidnaped by Hezbollah militiamen in Mashgharah, a town of 17,000 Christians and Muslims.

The two factions have long been at odds ideologically. Hezbollah advocates the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon patterned after the Muslim fundamentalist regime in Iran. The National Social Party wants Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Cyprus and pre-Israel Palestine merged into a secular "Greater Syria."

At Beirut's three Palestinian refugee camps, meanwhile, intermittent sniping strained a cease-fire that began Saturday evening between Shia Muslim militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas. The battle for control of the camps has killed at least 125 people and wounded more than 600 since it began May 19.

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