Rival Shia militiamen fought street battles here Saturday, and the pro-Syrian Amal forces drove the Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters out of most of West Beirut. Police said 25 people were killed and 54 wounded.
Also Saturday, the International Red Cross began pulling out its Swiss staff from Lebanon, 10 days after one of its employees was kidnaped in Sidon.
Red Cross sources in Beirut said the all-Swiss organization will close its operation throughout Lebanon if Peter Winkler, head of the Sidon office, is not freed by Dec. 3.
The ultimatum came as fighting intensified between the rival militias. The pro-Syrian militia drove out the fundamentalist Hezbollah (Party of God) from most of West Beirut on the second day of street battles, police in the capital said.
“We’ve finished them. We killed all 11 Hezbollahis who were terrorizing the whole neighborhood by sniper fire,” said the local Amal commander, who identified himself only as Bahij.
Toll Climbs to 35 Dead
A police spokesman said 25 people were killed and 54 wounded in the last 24 hours in the fighting between Hezbollah and Amal. That raised the overall toll to 35 dead and 74 wounded since the most recent conflict began in Beirut’s southern slums last Wednesday.
The fighting moved into central city districts Friday.
Winkler, 32, was kidnaped from his car by three unidentified gunmen on Nov. 17. No group has claimed responsibility.
The Sidon Red Cross office shut down on Wednesday to protest Winkler’s abduction. Three of its staff left Saturday for Geneva, leaving about 28 in the country, said the Red Cross sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Police believe the Revolutionary Council of Fatah faction led by Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal carried out the kidnaping on behalf of Hezbollah, which has no presence in Sidon.
The Fatah-Revolutionary Council has long been allied with Hezbollah, which is believed to be the umbrella for fundamentalist Shia factions holding most of the foreign hostages, including nine Americans.
Relief Workers Strike
In Sidon, a southern port city, Lebanese and foreign humanitarian organizations went on strike Saturday to protest Winkler’s abduction and the apparent kidnaping of Belgian doctor Jan Cools.
Cools, 32, disappeared May 21 after leaving his apartment in a Palestinian refugee camp near the southern port of Tyre, 25 miles south of Sidon. He worked at the camp for Norwac, a Norwegian humanitarian group, for three months before he vanished. No group has claimed responsibility.
Gilbert Holleufer, International Red Cross spokesman in Lebanon, said the suspension of activities in Sidon will reduce assistance for war-disabled people at a Red Cross orthopedic center there. The Swiss technicians have left.
In Beirut, the estimated 12,000 Syrian troops in charge of security in the city’s Muslim sector offered safe conduct for surrendering Hezbollah troops but made no serious effort to stop the fighting.
The new clashes between Hezbollah and Amal, struggling for dominance of the 1 million Shias, Lebanon’s largest sect, also appeared to reflect growing strain between Syria and Iran.
The Syria-Iran alliance has weakened since the Aug. 20 cease-fire in the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq.
Police said that by Saturday afternoon Amal had evicted Hezbollah from eight West Beirut districts and was closing in on their militants in the three other neighborhoods.
About 25 Hezbollah gunmen were seen surrendering to Syrian troops in the Zokak Blatt district after Amal fighters surrounded them in a high school.
The Hezbollah fighters handed over their weapons to a Syrian army captain, who sent them off in seven private cars. The officer refused to talk to reporters.
The Amal leader in Zokak Blatt, Ayman Shirri, said the Hezbollah fighters were being taken to the Iranian Embassy “where they belong.”