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Salvo Breaks Lebanon Truce; Both Sides Refuse to Lift Blockades

From Reuters

A brief salvo of shells slammed into a Christian area of Lebanon on Saturday, violating a day-old cease-fire in the civil war.

Each side in the conflict refused to lift blockades affecting the other’s territory, and most shops and businesses stayed shut amid doubts that the truce would hold between Christian-led forces, and Syrian troops and their Muslim militia allies.

The cease-fire, mediated by the 22-nation Arab League, took effect at midday Friday.

Security sources said at least 20 artillery shells were fired at the Christian area of Amsheet near the ancient town of Byblos north of Beirut. Most landed in the sea. No injuries were reported.

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The Christian leader, Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun, said late Friday that he will maintain a blockade of ports run by Muslim militias. The blockade had sparked artillery duels that killed more than 200 people in the last six weeks.

Pro-Syrian political sources said Syria and its militia allies will continue blockading Christian areas until Aoun’s forces lift their blockade.

The Arab League, meeting in Tunis last week, had called for an end to the blockades as part of the cease-fire.

In Tunis, sources close to the league said Saturday that a Kuwaiti and an Algerian diplomat will visit Beirut early this week to arrange details for the deployment of an Arab observer force to monitor the cease-fire.

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Beirut newspapers said an Arab League delegation will arrive within 24 hours and deploy along the so-called Green Line dividing Beirut into Muslim and Christian sectors. They are also to monitor mountains outside the capital separating Aoun’s troops from the Syrian and Muslim forces, the newspapers said.

Witnesses said only a few people risked passing through the Museum checkpoint on the Green Line on Saturday after Aoun ordered it reopened Friday. It is one of seven crossing points that in calmer periods of the civil war have linked the two sides of the city.

In Kuwait, a key member of the Arab League, Prime Minister Sheik Saad Abdullah al Sabah, warned Saturday that Lebanon’s 14-year-old civil war, in which hundreds of cease-fires have come and gone, is unlikely to end soon.

“The tragic events the country has witnessed since 1975 cannot be ended overnight or within weeks,” the Kuwaiti news agency quoted him as saying in Kuwait.

Christian sources said Aoun, who has vowed to drive Syria’s 40,000 troops from Lebanon, was dismayed that the Arab League did not refer to Syria’s role in the fighting when declaring the truce.


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