Gen. Aoun's Forces Open New Attack : Lebanon: The death toll surpasses 200. A barracks outside East Beirut is the strategic target.

From Reuters

Under cover of tank and artillery fire, hundreds of Christian army troops led by Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun launched a new assault on a strategic Lebanese Forces militia barracks north of bloodied East Beirut on Sunday night.

Security sources said that two hours after a daylong offensive, which Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said had been repelled, forces loyal to Aoun attacked the militia's main barracks at Dbaiye in a two-pronged assault.

More than 200 people have been killed in six days of inter-Christian battles, some of the worst in Lebanon's 14-year-old civil war.

To the south, much of East Beirut was burning. In hospitals awash with blood and short of oxygen, surgeons, plasma and food, doctors struggled to save more than 1,000 people wounded in the fighting.

Aoun launched his new attack on Dbaiye shortly after Geagea announced on Voice of Lebanon radio: "What happened today in Dbaiye is a turning point. . . . The attackers retreated."

The Lebanese Forces barracks sits on a strategic hilltop overlooking Aoun's positions, within firing range of Aoun's supply routes and straddling routes linking the port of Juniyah and East Beirut.

Despite Geagea's statement, security sources said Aoun's men in the first attack had gained territory on the Mediterranean coastal highway.

But the Lebanese Forces militiamen, often fighting hand-to-hand against their better armed, U.S.-trained opponents, kept control of their barracks. Lebanese Forces television said 2,000 army troops took part in the attack.

The fighting started last Tuesday after the 10,000-strong Lebanese Forces militia ignored an order from Aoun to disarm and disband.

Since then, many of the 500,000 civilians there have lived in terror, short of food, water and without power, huddled with their children in basements and corridors.

Aoun, with about 15,000 troops at his command, issued his order in a make-or-break attempt to crush Geagea's forces and become the undisputed leader of the Christian enclave north of Beirut. He claims to head a Christian Cabinet and has defied efforts to oust him by Lebanon's internationally recognized President Elias Hrawi.

The enclave is ringed by mainly Muslim Lebanese forces loyal to Hrawi and Syrian soldiers, but they have not intervened in the current fighting.

Stray shells from the fighting have hit Muslim West Beirut, with a stream of shells falling late Sunday. About 10 people have been killed there, and more than 50 have been wounded.

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