Fighting between Christian and Moslem Druze militias continued out of control today in this rugged mountainous region overlooking Beirut despite an effort by the Israeli Army last night to halt it.
Automatic rifle fire and occasional louder artillery explosions could be heard coming from the front lines just beyond a hill behind this Druze village. But there was none of the heavy shelling by the Christian Lebanese Forces militia that marked the fighting all day yesterday.
Residents here and from the Druze village of Bahwarita, heavily shelled yesterday, said the Israelis had sent several armored personnel carriers loaded with troops into the area last night and early this morning but later withdrew them.
The outburst of sectarian warfare has become a major concern of President Amin Gemayel, who is scheduled to leave Sunday for the United States to meet President Reagan in Washington and address the United Nations in New York.
It is still not clear how the government plans to bring it under control, and there remains a strong possibility it could spread to other Druze villages here in the mountainous Chouf region unless the Israeli or Lebanese Army moves in to separate the feuding factions.
Today, Mounir Abu Fade, deputy speaker of the Lebanese parliament, made an appeal for the multinational peace-keeping force or the Lebanese Army to occupy the area, but both suggested solutions seemed unlikely because the Chouf is under Israeli occupation.
The atmosphere was still very tense here and in other nearby Druze villages today. All along the road from Alayh on the Beirut-to-Damascus highway, shops and businesses were closed and village streets largely deserted.
At Qabr Chmoun, an Israeli Druze leader, Zeidan Atashi, who drove up from Jerusalem this morning, said he had been promised by the Israeli Defense Ministry at 10 p.m. yesterday that the Army would move into the Druze villages of Kfarmatta and Behwarta where the fighting has been concentrated.
But he said he had seen no Israeli military presence during his tour of the area. He, like several Druze villagers interviewed, seemed extremely concerned about the possibility of "another Sabra and Shatila" occurring in this Druze-dominated region where the Christian Lebanese Forces has been expanding its presence over since the Israelis occupied it last June.
Sabra and Shatila are the two Palestinian camps in West Beirut where Christian militiamen massacred hundreds of civilians last month.
Lebanon's new information minister, Roger Shikhani, told a press conference in Beirut today that the Lebanese Army was not in a position to act to separate the feuding Druze and Christian militia groups because the area was still under Israeli occupation and the Army was preoccupied with the task of reestablishing its authority in the capital.
At the same news conference, Army Prosecutor General Asaad Germanos gave the results of the house-by-house security sweep of West Beirut, announcing that 1,441 persons had been picked up and 972 held on various charges ranging from criminal offenses to irregular identity or residence papers.
Germanos said 511 Palestinians were among those charged, more than 300 of them for criminal offenses and the others for invalid residence permits.
Shikhani and Germanos heatedly denied reports the Army had dealt harshly with the Palestinian population of West Beirut during the sweep over the past two weeks. They did, however, admit that "some lapses and errors" might have been committed.
The information minister also said the Army had every intention still of extending the security check to Christian East Beirut and predicted it would begin "before two weeks."
The Lebanese Army began checking identity papers in East Beirut Thursday, The Associated Press reported, and Army units were preparing to begin search operations Friday.
The Christian Lebanese Forces are present all over East Beirut, and, although the forces' leaders say they will go along with whatever decision the government takes, doubts remain among West Beirut's Moslem population that the Christian militia will turn over its arms and get off the streets.
Germanos also denied local press reports that the investigation he is conducting into the Palestinian massacres had ended because potential witnesses were afraid to testify. He said the security forces would provide protection for anyone who asked for it.
He sidestepped a question whether his commission had interrogated Lebanese Forces officers allegedly involved in the massacre of Palestinians, saying only that his investigation would remain "secret" until completed.