A cease-fire took hold at besieged Palestinian camps in Beirut on Wednesday, but wrangling over terms kept food from reaching tens of thousands of starving refugees who have been reduced to eating cats, dogs and rats.
The Syrian-brokered truce was the latest in a series of abortive efforts to end fighting between Palestinian guerrillas and Shia Muslim militiamen. During the 15 weeks of combat, the Shias have blockaded the camps.
The cease-fire, police and Palestinian spokesmen said, was basically a food-for-territory agreement.
It followed overnight mortar and rocket clashes around Borj el Brajne and nearby Chatilla camp. Police said two people were killed and seven wounded. More than 700 have been killed and 2,000 wounded in the latest round of Palestinian-Shia fighting in Beirut.
Syrian army observers and Shia Amal militia commanders discussed what police termed "procedural arrangements" to let food and medical supplies into the Borj el Brajne camp.
But a police spokesman said that Shia representatives refused to allow two trucks loaded with rice, flour and potatoes into the camp.
Amal sources said that militiamen blocked delivery of supplies because Palestinian forces in southern Lebanon have not honored an agreement to withdraw from the strategic hilltop village of Maghdousheh, 24 miles south of Beirut.
Waiting for Orders
Palestinian commanders in the Sidon region said they have not received orders to withdraw from the areas they captured from Amal in November and hand them over to the Syria-backed Amal.
Nabih Berri, the leader of Amal and Lebanon's justice minister, told reporters in Damascus: "I was promised . . . (Tuesday) that the Palestinians will complete their withdrawal . . . (Wednesday) and that Amal will regain its positions east of Sidon.
"If this happens, we shall lift the siege of the camps . . . (this) morning."
The deal, worked out in Damascus on Tuesday, followed reports that the Palestinians, their food gone, have been reduced to eating cats, dogs and rats.
Children Escape Camp
Meantime, Palestinian sources said a Palestinian woman set fire to herself and her four children in the Borj el Brajne camp Wednesday because they preferred a quick death to starvation.
Palestinian sources said that about 40 children escaped starvation in the Borj el Brajne camp by sneaking through Amal lines, "one by one, for about 20 days," to the small Mar Elias camp controlled by the neutral Druze militia.
Amal, at Syria's urging, has been fighting the Palestinians on and off since May, 1985, to block efforts by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to rebuild the power base he lost in Israel's June, 1982, invasion.
Arafat was not represented at the Damascus talks. Independent observers believe any accord that does not include the PLO leader will fail.
Lebanese Pound Plunges
Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound plunged to an all-time low against foreign currencies Wednesday. The U.S. dollar sold at Beirut financial markets for 104 pounds. Early in 1984, the dollar sold for four pounds.
In Paris, President Francois Mitterrand urged the French government to "provide without delay, active and large aid to humanitarian organizations so the necessary food and medicine can be transported and distributed to the Palestinians under siege," Mitterrand's spokesman, Michelle Gendreau-Massaloux, said.
A Palestinian spokesman said that the Rashidiyeh refugee camp in a predominantly Shia region near the southern Lebanon city of Tyre was also running out of food and medical supplies.