Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, visiting his troops encircling the Lebanese capital, came to predominantly Christian East Beirut today and told reporters that Israel would not allow any Palestinian guerrillas to remain in Lebanon.
He avoided giving direct answers to repeated questions about whether Israeli forces would enter Palestinian strongholds in West Beirut. He also declined to say how much more time Israel would give the current negotiations aimed at forestalling an Israeli attack on West Beirut and sending the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon.
Sharon spoke to reporters briefly before having lunch with aides at the Hotel Alexandre in East Beirut, the base for most of the foreign correspondents covering the Christian and Israeli sides of the conflict in Lebanon. The architect of Israel's invasion arrived unexpectedly in a jeep accompanied by two plainclothes bodyguards and four soldiers.
"We have no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon," Sharon said. "The only reason" that Israeli troops invaded, he added, "is to destroy the terrorist PLO organization, and we hope that will be achieved. After that we will only be coming here as tourists."
Asked if Israeli troops would enter West Beirut, Sharon said, "We believe that there will be a way . . . to convince the terrorists to leave West Beirut. Israel will not accept a situation in which any of the terrorists will stay in Lebanon because we decided once and forever not to accept any more killing of our women and children."
Wearing civilian clothes and sitting with his back to the wall in a far corner of the hotel's restaurant, Sharon also said, "We hope after we eliminate the PLO, we can start the second stage of the Camp David accords." He was referring to negotiations over autonomy for the occupied West Bank.
Although Sharon's surprise visit provided a few tidbits of news, some reporters found it unsettling. They fear that word of such Israeli visits could make the hotel a target for Palestinian guerrillas and Lebanese leftist militiamen holed up in buildings about half a mile away on the other side of the "green line," the no-man's-land dividing East and West Beirut.
Israeli soldiers and officers frequently visit East Beirut from their bivouacs in the hills southeast of the city.