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Car Bomb Rocks Town During Gemayel Visit; 1 Killed

May 10, 1987|From Times Wire Services

BEIRUT — A bomb exploded Saturday in the northern Lebanese resort of Zghorta during a visit by President Amin Gemayel, killing a man and wounding 34 people in the Syrian-controlled town, police said.

Police said the bomb was planted under a green Renault sedan parked on a crowded street across from City Hall. But the 1:30 p.m. blast did not interrupt a meeting then under way half a mile away between Gemayel and former President Suleiman Franjieh on ways to resolve a government crisis. Both Gemayel and Franjieh are Christians.

The explosion started a fire that burned 10 other cars, police said. It broke windows, sending glass shards raining down from a high-rise office building onto the sidewalk, ground-floor shops and a cafe.

Police said at least five victims were pedestrians who suffered cuts.

The bombing followed a shoot-out in Zghorta a week ago between the rival Christian Franjieh and Dweihi clans over a soccer match. Police said five people were killed and four wounded in that fray.

The Syrian forces maintain checkpoints on the edges of the town but have no presence inside.

Gemayel and Franjieh were meeting at Franjieh's residence. Franjieh, 77, is reported recuperating from an earlier, mild heart attack.

Gemayel flew to Zghorta, 48 miles from Beirut, aboard an army helicopter. It was his first visit there since he took office in September, 1982.

Reporters in Zghorta said the talks centered on a Cabinet crisis brought on by the resignation of Premier Rashid Karami, a Sunni Muslim, five days ago.

Franjieh and Karami come from prominent northern Lebanon clans and both are allies of Syria.

Franjieh, who is particularly close to Syrian President Hafez Assad, had once accused Amin Gemayel's brother, the late President-elect Bashir Gemayel, of killing his son, Tony Franjieh, in the northern resort of Ihden in June, 1978.

This led Franjieh to leave the Lebanese Front, a coalition of Christian hard-liners, and move closer to the Syrian-backed camp, which includes the leftist and Muslim leaders of the country.

Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, maintains about 25,000 soldiers in northern and eastern Lebanon as well as in Muslim West Beirut. The Damascus government has been at odds with Gemayel since he torpedoed in January, 1986, a Syrian-arranged peace plan for Lebanon, racked by 12 years of civil war.

During the meeting, Gemayel called Karami by telephone at his home in Tripoli, six miles from Zghorta, according to a statement released at the end of the talks.

It was their first contact since Karami resigned Monday, citing failure of his half-Christian, half-Muslim Cabinet to resolve the civil war after three years in office.

But there were signs of a breakthrough in the Cabinet crisis.

An official announcement in Beirut said stalled negotiations between Gemayel's representatives and Syria over a new power-sharing formula to end the civil war between Christians and Muslims would resume in Damascus today.

The talks were suspended last March 27 amid Muslim charges that Gemayel was unwilling to make genuine concessions to give the Muslim majority an equal share of power with the Christians.

Meanwhile, Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national carrier, announced that it was flying two of its Boeing 727 passenger planes to Beirut's shuttered airport for repairs and maintenance.

State-run Beirut radio said it signals a resumption of flight operations at the airport after a 98-day shutdown.

Beirut radio quoted the airlines' chairman, Salim Salam, as saying "insurance companies have informed us that they were resuming coverage of aircraft using Beirut airport."

The airport closed after insurance companies said they would no longer cover Middle East Airlines airlines, following the destruction of an aircraft by shellfire at the airport.

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