The Lebanese Army suspended its destruction of hundreds of squatter homes near the U.S. Marine headquarters at the airport today, but authorities reportedly said they intend to resume slum-clearing there and in other southern districts of the capital.
Plans to begin leveling the houses of 15,000 civil war refugees, most of them Shiites, were postponed after a meeting between President Amin Gemayel and Moslem Shiite leader Nabih Berri last night.
But bulldozers working under the protection of the Army yesterday had already done enough damage to shops in the squatter village to prompt an exodus today of many residents. In addition, bulldozers continued to take down other squatter homes in another Shiite neighborhood just north of the airport.
Lebanese authorities were quoted in the press as reaffirming their plan to clear all illegal homes and buildings -- constructed since the 1975-76 civil war -- along the coastal road leading into West Beirut.
Residents in Ouzzai, one of the Shiite squatter communities there, said bulldozers were knocking down homes and shops a few each day, apparently to avoid too strong a local reaction and to give time to the residents to move out.
The road from the airport into town along the coast is a scene of destruction, some buildings wrecked by the fighting during the summer and others by the bulldozers.
Press reports today said the regional attorney general, Maurice Khawam, met with security authorities yesterday, told them of the government decision to demolish all illegal buildings in the airport area, and asked the Army to expel all squatters along the coastal road.
The government has told the multinational peace-keeping force that it is doing this because the squatter homes and shops are in the landing path of the airport and their lights are a problem for landing-approach equipment.
The land they are located on is described as owned either by the government or by private individuals but was seized by the squatters, most of whom fled Christian militiamen during the civil war.
The ouster of the squatters comes as the Army carried out a house-by-house search for arms and illegal aliens throughout West Beirut. In the process, hundreds of Palestinians have been detained and many reportedly mistreated.
The operations have put the multinational force in a difficult position since its main role here is to assure the security and protection of the civilian population, particularly the Palestinians, in the wake of the massacre in two Palestinian camps last month.
An official of the Shiite organization Amal said yesterday that there were 300,000 squatters around the capital, the majority Shiites, who stood to lose their homes. But analysts here agreed today that the figure was probably exaggerated.
Searches in the western sector continued today, with another 132 persons, including 21 Lebanese, reported arrested for various reasons. The total number seized since the operation began a week ago is estimated in the hundreds.
Security authorities have reported seizing more than 100 tons of ammunition as well as large numbers of arms and military vehicles, used either by Palestinian guerrillas or leftist Moslem militia.
Reports continue to circulate that the Army is about to extend its security search to Christian East Beirut, where the militia has yet to be disarmed. Spokesmen for the Christian Lebanese Forces said today its militia would not oppose the move and would go along with whatever Gemayel decided, including its disbanding or integration into the regular Army.
The Lebanese Forces has about 8,000 militiamen and is one of the two largest remaining private armies. The other is the Christian-led and Israeli-backed force of Saad Haddad in the south.
A Lebanese Forces spokesman predicted "there will be no problem" when the Lebanese Army begins its search for arms in East Beirut. There remains considerable skepticism among West Beirut's Moslem population that the Christain militia is ready to lay down its arms or disband.