Syria Rejects Iranian Role in Beirut Force

Associated Press

Syria on Monday rejected as "out of the question" Iranian involvement in a military force that would enter Beirut's southern slums to end 18 days of fighting between Shia Muslim factions, Lebanese officials said.

Fighting raged in the slums Monday. Mortars and howitzers pounded the 16 square miles of cement shanties and narrow alleyways, killing 13 people and wounding 78, police said.

The officials said Syria's rejection of the Iranian proposal was conveyed by Syria's military intelligence chief in Beirut, Brig. Gen. Ali Hammoud, at a six-hour meeting with Iran's deputy foreign minister, Hussein Sheikholeslam, that ended at dawn Monday.

Representatives of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Party of God, and the pro-Syrian Amal militia also attended the overnight meeting.

Death Toll Put at 279

Monday's casualties raised the toll to 279 killed and 951 wounded since battles for control of the slums broke out May 6 between Hezbollah and Amal.

Most of the 18 foreign hostages in Lebanon, including nine Americans, are believed held by Hezbollah-affiliated kidnapers in the embattled enclave.

Two Beirut dailies, the independent An Nahar and leftist As Safir, reported that Hammoud and Amal representatives insisted that the Syrian army take charge of security in south Beirut.

Acting Premier Backs Move

Acting Premier Salim Hoss, a Sunni Muslim, endorsed the demand.

"There is no other alternative. The Syrian army has to go in to stop the blood-letting and end the plight of the population," Hoss said in a statement.

An Nahar quoted the Iranian deputy foreign minister as saying Iran would approve a Syrian military intervention in the slums only if the hostage situation was resolved "in a way that serves the objective for which they were kidnaped."

Sheikholeslam did not elaborate, but An Nahar quoted him as saying the hostages are a "vital issue for Iran."

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