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Syrians Close 70 Militia Offices in Beirut

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From Times Wire Services

The commander of Syrian forces in West Beirut announced Thursday that his forces have closed all 70 Muslim militia offices in the Lebanese capital, killing 23 pro-Iranian Shia militiamen in the process.

Brig. Gen. Ghazi Kenaan also told a news conference that he would personally guarantee the safety of foreign visitors if they returned to West Beirut. A series of kidnapings since the militias took control of the city three years ago drove out many Westerners.

“I regard myself as the guarantor of their safety,” Kenaan said. “The special force for protecting embassies has taken up a position at the Soviet Embassy, and it is ready to guarantee the safety and security of all other embassies.” Syria is a key Soviet ally in the Middle East.

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Syria moved thousands of troops supported by tanks into West Beirut last Sunday as part of a security plan to stop a weeklong war between rival Muslim militias. At least 300 people were killed and 1,300 wounded in the battles between the Shia Amal militia and an alliance of other mostly Muslim militias.

Rules Out Rescue

Kenaan said that he does not believe that any of the 26 foreigners, including eight Americans, held captive by Islamic extremists in Lebanon, were in Beirut’s Muslim sector or other territory under Syrian control. He said that he has ruled out any military mission to free the hostages.

He said Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite was “excessively courageous” and “too humanitarian” in visiting Lebanon in an attempt to win the release of hostages. Waite dropped from sight Jan. 20 after leaving his hotel in Muslim West Beirut to meet with Shia Muslims holding Western hostages.

Kenaan, who is also chief of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, said that in addition to killing 23 pro-Iranian Shia militiamen and 15 other gunmen while closing the militia offices, his forces have arrested 20 people in their effort to end both the battle and three years of militia anarchy in the Muslim sector.

Figures Unclear

It was not immediately clear if his figures included more than 20 pro-Iranian Hezbollah (Party of God) militiamen killed Tuesday shortly after Syrian soldiers entered the Basta area of the city and took over the Hezbollah barracks.

Kenaan gave the first official Syrian account of Tuesday’s clash in the Basta slum district.

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“We asked all militiamen to leave their offices and hand them over to us,” Kenaan said.

He said Syrian troops came under fire as they moved in to occupy the main Hezbollah base under an agreement reached with all militias to hand over their centers.

“The base was burned and bombed,” he said. “Lights suddenly went off and our troops came under fire. One of our soldiers was shot in the knee. So all gunmen found on the premises were then dealt with in the manner you’ve seen.”

Ax, Bayonet Wounds

Doctors who examined the bodies at Beirut Hospital said only seven victims were shot and all had ax and bayonet wounds.

Hezbollah’s spiritual guide, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, demanded that the Syrians who killed the Muslim militiamen be brought to justice and warned that “if these actions continue, the security plan will fail.”

According to Kenaan, the battle between Amal and Palestinian guerrillas for control of Beirut’s Palestinian refugee camps has eased “because there are no militiamen surrounding the camps anymore.”

Food supplies are reaching starving residents of the shantytowns, which were besieged for more than three months, he said.

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Kidnaping Condemned

Asked whether the Syrian soldiers would mount a military operation to free foreign hostages, Kenaan said: “The issue of the hostages is not a military as much as it is a political one. We condemn kidnaping on humanitarian grounds.

“Syria spares no effort to resolve this issue, but their rescue is not a military issue. . . . We want a political, not a military solution. The kidnapers, by my reckoning, are not holding the hostages in any place where the Syrian forces maintain a presence.”

Kenaan was asked whether he had information about Waite, the personal envoy of Archbishop of Canterbury Robert A. K. Runcie, who was on his fifth mission to try to negotiate the release of Western hostages since November, 1985.

‘Too Humanitarian’

The general said: “We have no information other than he is excessively courageous. He came to resolve the issue of the hostages and ended up giving away himself as a hostage. That’s why I characterize him as excessively courageous. Terry Waite is too humanitarian.”

British Ambassador John Gray had indicated earlier Thursday that Syria’s military intervention might help free the hostages and said he hoped to have news about Waite soon.

“I imagine that the Syrians are as eager as any one of us to see the foreign hostages released,” he said after discussing the Syrian deployment with Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry.

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Kenaan denied an NBC television report that three Americans and an Indian kidnaped from the Beirut University College campus Jan. 24 were in Syrian hands.

“We have nothing of the sort. I know nothing about this,” he said.

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