Despite two days of official reports of new major Israeli Army movements into the mountainous Christian heartland, a seven-hour car trip through the area revealed no visible Israeli Army presence on the main roads or strategic mountain crests occupied by Christian militias and Lebanese Army troops.
For two consecutive days, the Voice of Israel has broadcast -- and their informal Christian allies, the Lebanese Forces, have confirmed -- reports of an Israeli Army tank buildup along the Lebanese coast between Juniyah and Jubayl, also known as Byblos, and extending east from those two cities to the inland heights overlooking Syrian Army positions in the Bekaa Valley.
In New York, Lebanese Ambassador to the United Nations Ghassan Tueni sent the Security Council a letter protesting Israeli "military advances in areas north of Beirut."
The three mountainous areas inland from the coast are known as Batrun, Jubayl and Kesrouane. The villagers in all the areas said today that there had been no Israeli Army movements through their mountainside villages along the only routes that would accommodate the Israelis' large American-made M60s or their own Merkava tanks. None of the paved roads showed any of the characteristic markings from the tanks' metal treads along the steep, twisting and narrow routes the Israelis would have had to follow.
Such markings are evident on the roads of the mountainous Chouf region south of the Beirut-Damascus road, an area that the Israelis have occupied continuously since the third day after their June 6 invasion of Lebanon.
One knowledgeable source here said, however, that the Israeli tanks could have turned off the road north of Juniyah and gone into the mountains over dirt roads not used by automobile traffic. The same source said that tactic was used by Syrian tank columns in the past in the same mountainous region.
Residents here in Duma, 14 miles northeast of Jubayl, and at Laklouk, five miles southeast of Duma, expressed fears that an Israeli incursion into the area would bring the type of daily destruction that the capital of Beirut is suffering.
The Christian residents of Duma, normally friendly toward the Israelis, "are beginning to question all the shelling," said Naz Saliba, a naturalized American on a vacation from his computer business in Houston, Tex.
Here in Duma today, fresh recruits of the Christian Lebanese Forces were doing midday training exercises down the center of the town's main street. The Lebanese Forces had an obligatory draft call-up of teen-age boys and girls at the end of July. Duma is just south of Syrian-occupied positions in the northern Batrun area.
Lebanese Forces soldiers were manning military checkpoints throughout the region today. Lebanese Army regulars were manning roadblocks along the region's eastern points.
A businesswoman in Laklouk said she had heard the broadcasts about Israeli troops having moved into the area, but said there had not been any such movement. Laklouk is the farthest point east one can go before dropping into Syrian-controlled hills.
The woman, who declined to be identified, said there was a "rising apprehension among the Christians here because it is not clear just what the long-range intentions of the Israelis are. Do you think the fighting will come up here?" she asked.