In an eerie calm following yesterday's intense Israeli bombardment, Lebanese government leaders today resumed negotiations with U.S. special envoy Philip C. Habib for the peaceful withdrawal of trapped Palestinian guerrillas from the besieged capital.
The talks, among Habib, Lebanese President Elias Sarkis and Prime Minister Shafiq Wazzan, were held in the presidential palace at Baabda in the hills overlooking the still smoldering southern part of West Beirut. Inhabitants there emerged from their basement shelters to survey the damage and help dig through the ruins of demolished buildings for dead and wounded still trapped inside.
Official sources reported that the talks, suspended by Lebanese Moslem officials yesterday because of the large-scale aerial bombing, made progress today, although they gave few details.
After the talks this morning, Wazzan told reporters, "Habib now has enough elements to be able to complete his negotiations and reach a stage at which implementation can begin, if Israel has honest intentions to make it possible for the Palestinians to leave and to implement the political solution."
But despite optimistic talk of progress, the negotiators appeared not to have appreciably narrowed the gap between Israel on the one side and Palestine Liberation Organization and Lebanese leaders on the other on some of the details of the withdrawal plan.
The Israeli Cabinet has told Habib, who returned from talks in Jerusalem Wednesday, that it accepts his proposals "in principle." But among its conditions, Israel insists on a detailed list by name of all PLO guerrillas to be evacuated as well as their destination. Israel also continues to insist that a majority of the guerrillas leave Beirut before the arrival of the multinational force that is to oversee the evacuation and maintain peace in the capital after the PLO leaves.
The Palestinian leadership has drawn up a list by numbers, not names as Israel demands, of the guerrillas to be evacuated and of the eight Arab countries to which they will travel, according to former Lebanese prime minister Saeb Salam. Salam has acted as Habib's intermediary with PLO leader Yasser Arafat because U.S. policy bans direct talks with the organization.
Salam said tonight that compiling a list of names of the guerrillas, all of whom identify themselves with noms de guerre, would be impractical and meaningless.
The PLO and the Lebanese Moslem community of which Salam is a leader also have reiterated to Habib their insistence on his initial proposal, approved by them last week, that the multinational force begin arriving simultaneously with, or at least on the same day as, the start of the evacuation.
"We will not accept starting the PLO withdrawal before the multinational force has begun to arrive," Salam said again today. "Nobody here, either Palestinian or Lebanese, trusts Israel not to try to take advantage of the absence of the force once the PLO begins to draw back from its positions."
He added, "After what they have done to this city and its people for two months, after yesterday's savage and murderous attack on our city, can anyone blame us for not demanding guarantees that the Israelis will not occupy our capital, as they already have half of our country?"
The Habib plan proposes an international force of about 2,000 troops drawn from U.S., French and Italian military contingents. They are to remain in Lebanon for 30 days, after which security is to be taken over by the Lebanese Army.
The proposal calls for an initial, token force of 350 French paratroopers to arrive in Beirut on the same day as the first Palestinian combatants, estimated by officials here to number about 1,000, board a ship to sail to the Jordanian port of Aqaba.
Habib is expected to promptly pass on to the Israelis the joint PLO and Lebanese responses discussed today in Baabda. There were indications he may return to Jersusalem in the near future to personally convey the positions.
While the negotiators talked, West Beirut enjoyed an uncharacteristic stillness. Residents moved cautiously from their basements into the daylight, many of them marveling at the silence that contrasted markedly with yesterday's 10 hours of intense bombing and shelling.
Beirut police tentatively listed 156 known civilian dead and 417 wounded in the Israeli raids. The PLO did not release casualty figures for its fighters, athough sources close to the organization said they had been "heavy."
People in the crowded city center today took advantage of the lull to search for bread at local bakeries or to converge on street corners to fill up water cans. One common source for water was shell-holes where broken water pipes poured forth like artesian wells.
Israeli soldiers manning the crossing points into the city confiscated water bottles, fruit and vegetables of residents who sought to carry the items with them when they went into the western sector to inspect the damage.
In the southern half of the city, beginning at the heavily damaged Corniche Mazraa boulevard, there was little movement through what has become a nearly deserted landscape of demolished and shell-pocked apartment buildings, embassies and hotels. The cratered roads were often impassable and the shanties in the refugee camps of Shatila and Sabra that have been focal points for the Israeli bombardments appeared all but obliterated.
Further to the southeast in the narrow streets of Burj al Barajinah, another Beirut suburb and refugee camp that has been a prime bombing and shelling target over the past two months, life returned to at least a semblance of normality.
Israeli officials have insisted that all of Burj's civilians have long since fled, leaving the area to the guerrillas. But while a visitor today saw guerrillas in the area, there were also groups of young women in head scarves lining up at local water fountains, old men staring out of windowless houses and boys scuffling through the littered streets.
Not far away at a barren cemetery surrounded by sun-baked pine trees, a group of men slowly dug a 10-foot-wide grave in which they were preparing to bury a family of six killed in yesterday's bombing.