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Shells Rain on Beirut for 3rd Day : Bombardment Is Worst in 5 Months in Lebanon Capital

August 13, 1989|NICK B. WILLIAMS Jr. | Times Staff Writer

NICOSIA, Cyprus — After a break of only two hours, the heaviest sustained shelling in the five-month battle of Beirut thundered with the dawn Saturday, obscuring the city in a shroud of smoke at the start of another day of destruction.

For the third straight day, Syrian and Christian artillerymen trained their guns across nearly half of Lebanon but poured the brunt of their fire on the ruined, near-lifeless capital and its suburbs. By Saturday night, police reports said 22 people had been killed and more than 110 wounded.

On Saturday, the French and Argentine embassies were hit by Syrian rockets, and one French Embassy guard was slightly wounded, security sources said. The U.S. and Brazilian embassies were also reported hit, according to Reuters news agency. No injuries were reported.

At nightfall, an orphanage in West Beirut was hit by shellfire from Christian forces, and three children were hospitalized in critical condition, according to the Muslim-run Voice of the People radio station.

Diplomats' Houses Under Fire

In overnight shelling, the residences of U.S. Ambassador John McCarthy and French Ambassador Rene Ala in suburban Yarze came under fire, the second time in 48 hours. No one was reported injured at either location.

The summer-dry hills south of the city were afire, according to reports reaching Cyprus, 90 miles offshore. Christian gunners searching for Syrian battery emplacements had shelled the hills and villages with rockets and cannon fire, turning the brush to flames.

A police spokesman said the Syrians showered the Christian bastion of East Beirut and the mountains beyond with volleys of rocket fire at 6 a.m. Saturday, ending a two-hour lull in the overnight shelling.

The Syrian rockets were answered by the heavy artillery of the predominantly Christian Lebanese army, commanded by Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun. Shells from Aoun's American-made 155-millimeter howitzers fell on suspected Syrian gun positions.

Shells and rockets rained down on some areas at the rate of 60 per minute, security sources said Saturday. On Thursday and Friday, residents had said rockets were falling at the rate of 40 a minute. At least 62 people have been killed and nearly 400 wounded over the three-day period.

At Khalde, south of Beirut, the incoming shells sent Syrian soldiers manning a checkpoint diving into roadside trenches. Some motorists hid under a highway bridge, according to press accounts.

In Paris on Saturday, President Francois Mitterrand launched an international peace initiative to end the artillery duels, asking Foreign Minister Roland Dumas to send envoys to the Syrian capital of Damascus, Moscow, Washington and the United Nations to try to end the shelling.

"The president has asked the government to do all it can to once again alert the international community and interested countries to the Lebanese problem," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Officials will also consult members of the three-nation mission sent by the Arab League to find a solution to the conflict, it added.

In a communique issued July 31, a league committee--made up of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, King Hassan II of Morocco and Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid--declared it had reached an impasse, saying specifically that its proposals for peace in Lebanon were turned down by the Syrian government of Hafez Assad.

In fact, Syria on Saturday vowed to step up its fight against Aoun, saying his rule threatens the security of the Arab world.

"The conspiracy implemented by Aoun is clear," said the official Tishreen daily. "The Arab responsibility requires intensifying efforts to prevent its escalation because it does not only threaten Lebanon's security but that of the Arab world."

For his part, Aoun on Saturday called for sanctions to be imposed on the Damascus government.

"We call on the international community, especially the five permanent members of the United Nations, to impose a political and economic boycott on the Syrian regime, which has proved to be Nazi and barbaric," Aoun said in a statement.

In West Beirut, Sunni Muslim Premier Salim Hoss, who is backed by Syria, issued a statement reflecting the despair of many Beirut residents.

"We would not be exaggerating when we say that for the first time since the war broke out, we feel we are left blowing in the wind with no ceilings above our heads," said Hoss, who heads a Muslim Cabinet vying for power with Aoun's Christian military Cabinet.

The all-out artillery exchanges began Thursday afternoon, continued for 15 hours without letup and then eased for nine hours before resuming in Friday's 13-hour siege. On Friday, Christian shells fell on the eastern, Syrian-controlled city of Baalbek, 40 miles northeast of Beirut, enlarging the circumference of the artillery war.

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