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Palestinian Fighters Put War on Hold to Repair Shattered Beirut Refugee Camps

December 20, 1987|DIANA ABDALLAH | Reuters

BEIRUT — Jihad leaned his rifle against a bullet-pocked wall, seized a pickax and set to work with fellow Palestinian guerrillas repairing the mosque at Beirut's Shatila refugee camp.

Veteran Palestinian fighters have laid down arms in recent weeks to rebuild Shatila's hospital, mosque and two schools, shattered in three years of battles with Shia Muslim Amal militiamen.

But the latest round of the Amal-Palestinian camps war that ended in September also demolished about 95% of the concrete single-story houses and tin-roofed shacks in Shatila.

Unless agreement is reached to allow more supplies into the camp, its estimated that 2,500 residents will have a miserable winter as rain and cold seeps through damaged roofs and walls.

'A Big Swamp'

"The whole camp is like a big swamp," said Mariam Taleb, a mother of six, using a handful of cement taken from the fighters at the mosque to patch the bullet holes in her single-room home.

"People might think we have adapted to this life, but I don't understand how any human can adapt to this," she said, glancing at her sick 12-year-old daughter sleeping on the bare floor.

As more cement was mixed nearby, women and old men in the yard of the mosque tended carnations planted on a mass grave for about 450 residents killed in the last year of bitter conflict.

Work on Shatila's shell-damaged public buildings began on Nov. 9, after Syrian mediators succeeded in getting Amal to allow a convoy carrying 72 tons of cement into the camp.

Supplies Permitted

The supplies donated by the Arab League were the first since 1985 to be allowed into the shantytown, ringed by Syrian peacekeeping troops but still under partial siege from Amal.

Another convoy reached nearby Bourj al-Barajneh camp, where, as in Shatila, only women and children are allowed to venture in and out. The men, as suspected fighters, are trapped inside.

Children in Shatila race to meet their mothers back from shopping outside the 200-square-yard camp.

As Jihad and friends worked, other guerrillas with pistols and submachine guns patrolled the narrow alleyways, partly choked by mounds of rubble and pools of mud fed by sewers broken in the fighting.

Shatila Hit Hard

Shatila, with a population of 3,500 in 1984, was the most damaged of Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps during the camps wars, which have killed 2,500 people and wounded thousands.

Amal said that it had to put the camps under siege to choke a Palestinian military resurgence before it led to an Israeli invasion like the 1982 thrust to expel Palestinian guerrillas.

Palestinian groups, however, said Amal wanted to end their ability to protect the 300,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

During the 1982 Israeli invasion, Lebanese Christian militiamen were allowed into Sabra and Shatila, where they massacred hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children.

Reconstruction Committee

Issa Framawi, a member of Shatila's reconstruction committee, said that a joint Palestinian-Amal committee had agreed to the immediate repair of the hospital, mosque and schools.

"But what is more important is to repair the houses," he said. "We are anxiously awaiting word to start that."

A U.N. official said the major health hazards in Shatila--respiratory problems, rheumatism and arthritis--were linked to the damp and cold. The number of cases was increasing.

"It's pitiful," said the official, who visited the camp. "Family after family sitting in the dark, cold and wet."

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