Lebanon's Aoun Refuses to Leave Presidential Palace; Vows to Fight

From Associated Press

Christian army commander Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun rejected an ultimatum to leave the presidential palace and said Monday that he would die fighting.

Aoun told a news conference in his bunker beneath the shell-battered palace east of Beirut that he is recruiting volunteers to meet a possible assault by the 40,000 Syrian soldiers stationed in Lebanon.

Military sources discounted reports of military buildups in the mountains above the palace in the suburb of Baabda and along the line that divides Muslim West Beirut from Christian East Beirut.

"There is absolutely no move on the ground to suggest that a collision is imminent," a ranking Muslim army officer said.

He said the "fronts are as they have been since the cease-fire" that began Sept. 22, ending six months of fighting between the Syrians and Aoun's 20,000-strong Christian forces.

Elias Hrawi, the newly elected president who gave Aoun the ultimatum, issued a statement at his temporary headquarters in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley town of Chtoura urging Christian troops to support him.

"Gen. Aoun is placing the Lebanese nation at an impossible, destructive and reckless option that leads only to the underground shelters . . . while the presidency has decided to lead the nation out of the death mill to peace," said Hrawi, a Maronite Catholic.

"It is the legitimate government's right to employ all means and potential to recover what has been usurped from it."

On Sunday, the president gave Aoun 48 hours to leave the palace.

In his bunker, the 54-year-old Aoun said: "Mr. Hrawi has no forces of his own to fight me with. He will have to rely on Syria's occupation forces.

"I am going to die fighting," Aoun vowed. "I'll fight even with kitchen knives, sticks and stones to defend Lebanon's honor."

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