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Syria Tightens Beirut Grip, Seizes Arms

February 28, 1987|Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syrian forces guarded empty Western embassies Friday, tightened their control on West Beirut and were reportedly ordering young men to shave off beards, which have become virtual badges of militia gunmen.

Syrian units raided arms caches and escorted more food convoys into Palestinian refugee camps that had been under siege by Amal, the Shia Muslim militia, for three months.

Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan, commander of about 7,000 Syrian soldiers now in this capital, said his men have the city's Muslim sector under control. He has urged Western diplomats to move back into their embassies.

Kenaan, who is also Syria's military intelligence chief in Lebanon, warned rival Muslim gunmen to release Lebanese captives they abducted just before the Syrians moved into the city.

'The Last Warning'

"We have plenty of information about the kidnapers, who will be severely punished unless all the captives are immediately set free," he said. "This is the last warning, after which we will act directly against the kidnapers."

His statement was broadcast by Beirut's privately owned radio and television stations.

The general also said his troops could do little to gain the release of 26 missing foreigners, including eight Americans, most of whom are believed held by Shia extremists. He has said they are not in Syrian-controlled territory and has ruled out a military rescue operation.

Western diplomats and most other foreigners moved out of the lawless Muslim sector because of frequent kidnapings and territorial battles between rival Muslim militia factions.

Police said Kenaan's troops erected 23 checkpoints Friday and raided seven Amal arms dumps.

A Syrian unit escorted a U.N. food convoy to hungry Palestinians at the Chatilla refugee camp, which is surrounded by the Shia slums of south Beirut. Food was sent into the nearby Borj el Brajne camp Thursday.

Typhoid Reported

In Vienna, a statement by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said a doctor with the convoy found eight cases of typhoid at Chatilla and "agency officials report total destruction of the camp. . . . While the convoy unloaded, there was sniping in the area."

The battle between Nabih Berri's Amal militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas appeared to be fizzling out. Amal has fought the Palestinians intermittently since May, 1985, in an attempt to keep Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat from regaining the Lebanese base he lost in the 1982 Israeli invasion.

According to police, Syrian troops seized ammunition for machine guns and mortars in raids on Amal caches in the two West Beirut neighborhoods. Materiel also has been seized from dozens of similar caches belonging to Walid Jumblatt's Druze militia, police reported.

The Syrians have closed all 75 militia offices in West Beirut, killed at least 38 defiant gunmen and arrested 20.

Truckloads of helmeted commandos patrolled seafront boulevards here Friday. Checkpoints were set up at embassies and at the battered Commodore Hotel, once headquarters for hundreds of foreign correspondents covering the Lebanese civil war, which began nearly 12 years ago.

Checkpoint Stops

"The embassies have no reason any more not to return to West Beirut," Kenaan told a news conference Thursday. He added in a reference to foreign journalists: "I take it upon my own responsibility to urge them to return."

Soldiers stopped motorists at checkpoints, inspected identity cards and searched trunks. They frisked pedestrians suspected of carrying arms.

Al Liwa, a daily newspaper published in West Beirut, reported a sharp decrease in the number of bearded young men, usually thought of as likely militia members.

It said Syrian soldiers were dealing sternly with anything "related to armed manifestations, including the phenomenon of growing beards."

In some cases, the paper said, troopers seized the identity papers of bearded men and told them to "go and shave."

Al Liwa quoted a Syrian officer as telling a bearded reporter, "You must understand, orders say no beards in Beirut."

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