Christian militia leaders shunted aside their chief Thursday night under pressure from Syria and replaced him with Elie Hobeika, the man Israel blames for massacres at two Palestinian refugee camps in 1982.
The former commander, Samir Geagea, led the Lebanese Forces militia in a revolt March 12 against Syrian influence in President Amin Gemayel's government, seizing control in most of Christian Lebanon. Syria blames Geagea for the current upsurge in Christian-Muslim fighting.
Battles raged Thursday across the demarcation line that separates Beirut's Christian and Muslim sectors. Gunners exchanged artillery barrages and militia street fighters riddled each other's strongpoints with small-arms and mortar fire.
The new fighting swept away a cease-fire that had been declared Tuesday night but never fully observed.
Pressure From Syria
Official sources said that Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, had been under mounting pressure from Syria to move against Geagea and other hard-line militia leaders as a means of ending the sectarian fighting, in which more than 250 people have been killed since March 29.
uslim The Lebanese Forces announced that Hobeika, who has served as intelligence chief, was elected head of the decision-making executive committee. That means he outranks Geagea, 32, who retains his post as chief of staff.
Gemayel was not directly involved in Hobeika's election.
An Israeli government commission accused Hobeika, 35, of leading the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in September, 1982, at the Sabra and Chatilla camps in Beirut, which the Israelis then controlled after their invasion in June of that year.