Druze Militia Storms Hotel, Routs Shias : 25 Slain, 80 Wounded in Beirut Fighting Around American U.
Druze militiamen stormed the Commodore Hotel today, routing Shia Muslim fighters as fierce battles raged a fourth day in West Beirut.
Police said at least 25 fighters were killed and 80 wounded in fighting around the hotel and the American University of Beirut in the city’s Muslim sector. The casualties raised the toll since fighting broke out Sunday to at least 65 killed and 280 wounded.
Dozens of buildings were destroyed by fires that blazed out of control.
The fighting pitted Amal, led by Justice Minister Nabih Berri, against an alliance of Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party and the Moscow-oriented Lebanese Communist Party.
The Druze militiamen stormed into the Commodore’s lobby and in close-quarter fighting took control of the hotel, once the base of foreign correspondents in Lebanon.
Pools of blood splattered around the lobby testified to the fierceness of the fighting. Hooded Progressive Socialist Party gunmen crouched in the lobby, their submachine guns trained on the entrance.
Grenades and Rockets
Amal militiamen took up positions in an apartment building facing the hotel, and the two sides traded rocket-propelled grenades and shoulder-fired rockets.
A Syrian-sponsored cease-fire took effect at midnight but was shattered late this morning when Druze and communist fighters attacked Amal headquarters near the university. Syrian military observers tried unsuccessfully to curtail the outbreak.
The seven-story Commodore took direct hits early in the day as gunmen from both sides exchanged rocket and machine gun fire.
The second-floor office of the CBS television network across the street from the hotel was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, but office manager Walid Harati said there were no casualties.
This week’s fighting has been the fiercest in West Beirut in three years and the worst since Syria sent troops into the Muslim sector of the Lebanese capital last summer to end a wave of militia lawlessness.
During a lull in this morning’s fighting, thousands of people emerged from basements and bomb shelters to inspect damaged houses and shops and buy food. No bakeries or groceries were open, apparently because owners feared a resumption of fighting.
Streets, Sidewalks Littered
Glass shards and cartridge cases littered the streets. Cars with shattered windshields and shot-out tires lay on sidewalks, some still smoldering.
The glass fronts of shops off West Beirut’s main commercial Hamra thoroughfare were broken. Bullet-riddled dummies lay among the piles of glass.
In the low-income Tarik Jedideh and Cola districts, dozens of buildings smoldered from fires that had burned out of control.
In separate fighting, Amal has besieged Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut for three months. Berri told reporters Tuesday in Damascus, the Syrian capital, that his militia would lift the siege today and begin letting food through to the hungry inhabitants.
But Beirut police today said they had no word on whether the blockade was lifted.
U.N. spokesmen also were unable to say whether any food supplies will be trucked into the beleaguered camps of Chatilla and Borj el Brajne soon.