Shias Declare Victory Over Sunni Muslims; Beirut Toll Mounts
Shia Muslim fighters of the Amal militia, moving behind tank and mortar barrages, stormed through Sunni Muslim strongholds of West Beirut on Tuesday after 15 hours of street battles that killed at least eight people and wounded more than 70, security officials said.
The fighting in the Muslim sector--death estimates ran as high as 32--was the worst inter-Muslim bloodletting in Lebanon in six months. It coincided with a two-week-old war between Amal and Palestinian guerrillas around three refugee camps on Beirut’s southern outskirts, which has left dozens dead.
After apparently routing the Palestinian-backed Sunnis in their West Beirut strongholds, the Amal militiamen declared victory.
“The battle has been won, and we call on our men not to loot or touch anything which is not of any military nature,” an Amal spokesman said on behalf of the militia’s leader, Nabih Berri, who is also Lebanon’s justice minister.
Berri offered to turn over all neighborhoods conquered by his militiamen to the Lebanese army.
Shortly before the declaration of victory, hundreds of Amal fighters stormed the stronghold of the February Six Movement, a relatively small, pro-Palestinian Sunni Muslim militia that has been Amal’s major enemy in the current fighting. The movement, led by Shakr Berjawi, takes its name from the 1984 date of a Muslim uprising against the army in West Beirut.
Amal captured the area, near West Beirut’s Corniche Mazraa commercial district, in a three-pronged offensive Tuesday. Hundreds of Shia militiamen pushed in behind barrages of T-54 tank fire and 120-millimeter mortars to overrun Berjawi’s headquarters and his house. They set his father’s nearby house afire.
Berjawi was reported to have escaped with about 50 followers. His forces were estimated at only about 100 militiamen, supported by 800 other Sunni fighters from various factions. They were clearly outnumbered by Amal’s superior forces and firepower.
Slaying of Two Shias
According to Amal spokesmen, Tuesday’s assault followed the slaying Monday of two kidnaped Shias by Berjawi’s militiamen.
The intensity of the fighting left hundreds of casualties unattended, some bleeding to death outside burning apartment buildings, a police spokesman said.
“The battles have made it impossible for our doctors to reach the hospital,” a source at Makased General Hospital said. “The wounded are left unattended and dying. . . . Stop this war.”
The street-to-street and house-to-house combat shut down the entire Muslim sector of the capital. Dozens of buildings were left to burn out of control after two fire stations were hit by rockets.
In a broadcast by the Muslim Voice of the Nation radio station, workers at the Islamic Orphanage appealed for an immediate truce.
‘Under Constant Barrage’
“We are under a constant barrage of heavy machine-gun and mortar fire,” the orphanage declared before Amal’s victory announcement. “We have been hit by many shells, and 2,000 children are trapped in the orphanage. . . .
“Our children are facing a real catastrophe. The children need food. . . . Have mercy and neutralize the area around us. . . . Save our orphans, some of whom are blind or deaf.”
Premier Rashid Karami and Education Minister Salim Hoss appealed to President Hafez Assad of Syria for intervention to end the fighting. But there was no public response from Syria, Lebanon’s main power broker, which maintains about 30,000 troops in northern and eastern Lebanon.
In the continuing battle for the Palestinian refugee camps, police reported 21 people killed and 115 wounded in Tuesday’s fighting. Estimates of the death total in the two weeks of fighting ranged from 53 to 73, with at least 250 reported wounded.
Few Manage to Escape
Fighting with Syrian-provided, Soviet-made T-54 tanks, Amal forces pushed back at least two large-scale Palestinian attempts to break out of the three besieged camps--Sabra, Chatilla and Borj el Brajne. Only small units managed to escape, security sources said.
Before the Israeli invasion of 1982, Lebanon was the main power base of Palestinian guerrillas loyal to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. Since their wholesale ouster that year, the guerrillas have been attempting to re-establish their presence, particularly in the Beirut camps. Arafat and Berjawi of the February Six Movement have been described as allies.
Predominantly Sunni and anti-Syrian, the Palestinians constitute a threat to Lebanon’s Shia Muslims, the largest single religious faction in the country.