Many of the heavy weapons captured by the Israeli Army in its invasion of Moslem West Beirut are being turned over to the Christian militia forces whose units have been directly implicated in the massacre of Palestinian civilians in the capital's Shatila refugee camp.
Lt. Col. Yaacov Perez, the deputy spokesman for the Israeli Army in Beirut, said today that a portion of the weapons its forces had amassed in raids through the Lebanese capital were being turned over to the rightist Christian Lebanese Forces militia whose men Israeli officials have admitted participated in the Shatila massacre last week.
On the eve of the arrival of 350 French paratroopers, the vanguard of the 3,000-man international peacekeeping force now en route to Beirut, a new dispute broke out after Israel announced that its troops would be withdrawing from parts of West Beirut in five stages over the next five days as Lebanese Army units took up positions behind them.
The Israeli plan, announced unilaterally in Jerusalem and approved neither by the Lebanese government nor U.S. mediators, calls for its forces to pull out only from West Beirut's densely populated northern tier. Even after that, Israel would retain the right to send armed patrols throughout the city in search of other weapons caches and enemy hideouts.
Sources close to U.S. special envoy Morris Draper said the Israeli plan was unacceptable because it fell far short of President Reagan's insistence that Israel pull out completely from West Beirut. Both Draper and the Lebanese government have also rejected Israel's demand that it be allowed to continue to send armed patrols through the city at will.
The Israeli plan calls for its forces to keep control of all of West Beirut south of the Corniche Maazra Boulevard until it determines that the Lebanese Army, with the support of the multinational forces, has taken full control of the northern half of the city. That would leave the Palestinian neighborhoods of the city, and the refugee camps of Shatila, Sabra and Burj al Barajinah, still under Israeli occupation.
After the French vanguard lands on Thursday, another 600 French paratroopers already at sea will follow. A U.S. naval task force with about 1,400 Marines of the 32nd U.S. Marine Amphibious unit that left Beirut only 12 days ago was also steaming toward Lebanon hoping to put the first Marines back on shore either Friday or Saturday. They will be followed eventually by some 1,000 Italian "Lagunari" commandos.
Just how and where the multilateral force will deploy around West Beirut has not yet been determined. At the request of the Lebanese government the international force was ordered in so fast in the wake of the horror of the Shatila massacre that officials of Lebanon, Israel and the three nations providing contingents to the force have not yet been able to agree on deployment or the force's ultimate responsibilities.
Lebanese officials, however, have privately expressed the hope that the force, an expansion of the one sent here last month to help guarantee implementation of the plan negotiated by U.S. envoy Philip C. Habib for the evacuation of Palestine Liberation Organization forces, will stay longer than before and deploy throughout the city, not just in small parts of it as was the case last month.
Habib returned to Beirut tonight for meetings with Lebanese officials, United Press International reported.
The turnover of arms to the Christian militia was revealed as Defense Minister Ariel Sharon acknowledged before the Israeli parliament today that his army had coordinated the entry of the Lebanese Forces units into the Shatila camp, let them pass through Israeli Army lines around the camp, and even fired illuminating flares to light the night skies over the camp while the 36-hour massacre of hundreds of men, women and children took place.
Col. Perez said that the weapons being turned over were part of a "gigantic" weapons and munition supply that the Israeli Army had picked up from some 130 arms caches around Beirut since its occupation of the western part of the city last week. The arms, the spokesman said, were partly those of the evacuated PLO, as well as those belonging to local leftist Lebanese Moslem militias who tried to resist the Israeli takeover of West Beirut in a series of scattered hit-and-run attacks on the Israeli Army.
In Tel Aviv, an Israeli military spokesman said four Israeli soldiers were wounded in a bazooka attack tonight at a roadblock near the Hamra section of West Beirut, UPI reported.
Perez said that Israel was trucking about half of the captured weapons south to Israel, even though the Habib accords dictated that all of the PLO's heavy arms were to be turned over the Lebanese Army. The other half of the captured weapons which would remain in Lebanon, Perez said, would be divided: part would go to the Lebanese Army while many more were being given to the Lebanese Forces, the Christians' largest private militia, which has been trained and armed by Israel for the past seven years.
"The fact is we have found so many munitions, so many weapons, that we cannot carry them all back to Israel," Perez said. "We have even found tanks and we have turned them over to the Lebanese Forces and they are happy with them. They say they are going to use them."
The Israeli deputy defense spokesman here added new details to the Israeli involvement with the militia groups that entered the Shatila camp last week.
"They the Lebanese Forces were only supposed to look through the camp and kill PLO terrorists," Perez said. "We didn't expect them to kill children."
Perez said that after the Christian militiamen had been brought to the assembly area just south of the Shatila camp entrance, Israeli Army officers heard the Lebanese Forces' "chief officer," whom he did not name, give his men the order "not to touch women and children."
"But when they went in the camp , they did just that," the Israeli military spokesman said. "We didn't have any control over them. We didn't know it was going to be a massacre."
The International Red Cross said today that as of this afternoon a total of 293 bodies had been recovered from the narrow, rubble-strewn alleys and bulldozed homes of the camp where once 10,000 refugees who fled Palestine when Israel was created in 1948 lived.
Of the bodies recovered so far, the Red Cross said, 33 were women and children. A still unknown number of bodies are lying under flattened homes and in at least one mass grave on the periphery of the camp, 300 yards from an Israeli observation post.
Last weekend, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan said that the Christian militiamen had only entered Shatila because the Lebanese Army that was supposed to assert government control over it had balked at the task.
Today, a spokesman for the Lebanese Army categorically rejected Eitan's charge, insisting that the army had been scheduled to move into Shatila, as it had started to move into the nearby refugee camp of Burj al Barajinah, within two days of Israel's advance into West Beirut.
"It is not true that we were not willing to enter the camps," said Maj. Atef Tarabay, the Lebanese Defense Ministry's deputy spokesman. "The army was ready to enter the camps because there was no choice for the army and the Lebanese people. We have to extend the authority of the government everywhere in West Beirut, including the camps."
That the army had not yet entered Shatila, and the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Sabra, the spokesman said, was only because it had been tied up with other security duties in the city, taking up other positions as they were being evacuated by leftist militiamen in accordance with a "security plan" for West Beirut worked out by Prime Minister Shafiq Wazzan.
The army spokesman denied, too, that there was any major concentration of PLO fighters in the camps.
It was one of Israel's main contentions that up to 2,000 PLO fighters had withdrawn to Shatila and the other refugee camps after the PLO evacuated the city. Even Israeli spokesmen have so far not been able to document that charge, and there are increasing reports that very few men alleged to be PLO combatants haveturned up in the camps.
Meanwhile there was a confirmation today that major Saad Haddad had been in Beirut last week during the course of the massacre. Haddad's Israeli-armed Christian militiamen, as well as the East Beirut-based Lebanese Forces, have both been identified by eyewitnesses in Shatila, though both Haddad and Lebanese Forces spokesmen denied they had anything to do with the slaughter.
In an interview with a correspondent from the London Times in southern Lebanon, Haddad said that he had been flown to Beirut in an Israeli helicopter last Friday to pay condolences to Amin Gemayel, whose brother, Bashir, the former commander of the Lebanese Forces, had been assassinated three days earlier. Amin Gemayel was elected as the future president of Lebanon yesterday.
Haddad told his interviewer he had only spent the day in Beirut and had returned to his base in southern Lebanon Friday night.