President Amin Gemayel returned from Damascus today and raised the prospect of Syrian army troops returning to Beirut to help restore peace.
In response, Shia Muslim fighters revoked a cease-fire declared hours before and overran the Sabra refugee camp, capturing its last band of Palestinian defenders.
The Shia Amal militiamen then massed for an assault on the neighboring Chatilla refugee camp. The Shias have been battling Palestinians in the Sabra, Chatilla and Borj el Brajne camps for 12 days in fighting that has claimed more than 420 lives.
“Syrian President Hafez Assad, in response to a request by Lebanon, has in principle agreed to expand the role of Syrian troops already deployed in Lebanon,” the pro-Syrian newspaper Al Hakika said.
Lebanese government sources said Gemayel and Assad, during their meetings in Damascus, examined “an integrated political and security program” to prevent recurring bouts of factional fighting in Lebanon and end 10 years of bloodshed.
Reporters in the Bekaa Valley 20 miles east of Beirut said Syrian soldiers had been placed on alert and were moving into new positions, and several sources said Syrian intervention was imminent.
The security program would call for the formation of a joint Lebanese-Syrian military force entrusted with collecting weapons from rival Lebanese militias and Palestinian camps and imposing law and order throughout Lebanon, said a Lebanese government official who declined to be identified.
He said Gemayel was insisting that “everyone must be disarmed, including the Palestinians.”
“Sabra has fallen after heroic battles by our men,” a Palestinian spokesman said. Other Palestinians said jubilant Shias started dynamiting Sabra’s tin-roofed houses and “leveling the camp bit by bit.”
Amal stopped reporters from entering Sabra and the Palestinian reports could not be confirmed.
Reporters saw the bloodstained bodies of 10 Palestinian fighters, still wearing ammunition belts and bayonets, lying in a soccer stadium outside Sabra.
Radio stations said up to 80 guerrillas were shot to death as they tried to escape from the camp at dawn. Amal said it captured the last 20 Palestinian guerrillas holding out.
The fall of Sabra was crucial for the outnumbered Palestinians, who have been outnumbered and fighting against superior firepower. It opened up new routes for a final push into Chatilla by Amal and soldiers of the Lebanese army’s predominantly Shia 6th Brigade.
Palestinians said houses in Sabra were being destroyed in an effort to make sure the Palestinians do not return to their one-time stronghold.
The fighting started in what was seen as an effort by the Shias to prevent the Palestinian guerrillas from establishing a new power base in the Lebanese capital after they were driven out in 1982 by the invading Israelis.