BEIRUT — Palestinian forces repulsed an attempt by Shia Amal militiamen Sunday to recapture a strategic village in southern Lebanon in fierce fighting that left at least seven people dead and 30 wounded, security sources said.
The fighting began after hundreds of Amal militiamen armed with hand grenades and shoulder-fired rockets advanced at dawn toward the hilltop village of Baissour, three miles east of the refugee camps of Miye ou Miye and Ein el Hilwa, outside the southern city of Sidon.
Backed by rocket and artillery fire, the Amal forces burst into the already battered village and battled a buffer force of Sunni Muslim militiamen, the security sources said.
The Sunni militiamen were deployed in Baissour after Palestinian guerrillas pulled out of the village Saturday. The guerrillas, many loyal to Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat, captured Baissour from the Shias in a surprise attack last Wednesday.
On Sunday, Palestinian guerrilla commanders ordered their men to back the Sunni fighters as the Amal gunmen were gaining the upper hand, the security sources said.
But the sources said the less experienced Sunni fighters withdrew from the battlefield, leaving the two rivals to fight it out.
As the veteran Palestinian fighters pushed the Amal militiamen out of the village, at least seven people were killed and 30 others were wounded in six hours of heavy fighting, they said.
Sidon residents said the noise of shellfire echoed though the city all day. Black smoke billowed over hilltops, and sniper fire halted traffic on the coast road to Tyre further south.
Palestinian sources said a "peacekeeping force" was deployed in the village, but sources close to the Sunni militia denied that they had reentered Baissour.
The fighting, the most serious since Arafat's guerrillas expanded out of the camps last November, dashed prospects for the implementation of a Syrian-sponsored peace pact agreed to last month.
The accord called for the Palestinians to withdraw from areas east of Sidon and for Amal to lift its siege of the refugee camps. It was blocked when the Palestinians refused to withdraw to the camps.
Baissour, once the home of some 3,000 Christians, has witnessed at least two battles since Christian militiamen left it in fierce fighting against a joint Palestinian-Muslim force in 1985.
The Palestinians said their "occupation" of Baissour was intended to abort anticipated efforts by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army to take the town.
Amal and the Palestinians have engaged in at least three rounds of fighting around the camps since 1985.