The bloodletting between Christians and Druze of this village in the Chouf Mountains has been over for a month now. The Lebanese Army has moved in to keep the peace and the Israelis and their Christian militia allies have gone.
That, indeed, was the solution proposed by the Druze and more than a few Christians here to end the escalating sectarian strife threatening anew Lebanon's fragile stability.
Yet the Christians, many of whose homes were badly damaged in the fighting, have abandoned for the most part this Druze-dominated village out of continuing fear for their safety.
The streets are half abandoned, many stores closed and the one village school destroyed. Only the spectacular view of the towering olive- and pine-covered mountains remains intact.
"Before, we had peace in the area," said Fuad Khadaj, the village's Druze mayor. "We lived together like one big family. Then the Israelis came and played Christians against the Druze."
The Druze, who number about 200,000 in Lebanon, are an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam but have their own practices. There are 55,000 Druze in Israel and another 300,000 in Syria. They were traditionally the feudal lords of the Chouf region. The Maronite Christians, their former serfs, gradually bought land alongside them, sometimes in separate communities.
Khadaj blamed the current plight of Kfar Matta's 5,500 villagers on the Christian Lebanese Forces militia, which he said had come here in July, set up a checkpoint and then opened a training camp with Israeli blessings -- all in the name of protecting the minority Christian population.
Soon the Lebanese Forces fell to bickering with, and then fighting, the militia of the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, which dominates politics here, as it does in most Druze villages of the Chouf.
Najib Haddad, 84, a Christian, said only seven of the 100 Christian families remained after the fighting stopped, most of them old people like himself.
Across the Chouf, Christians are leaving other villages menaced by violence and, especially, those that are predominantly Druze. It is not an exodus, according to Druze and Christian sources, but the departure of one family here and another there -- particularly those with young children or teen-agers.
"Why are the Christians leaving now?" asked Mayor Khadaj. "They didn't leave before, during the [1975-76] civil war."
The Christians say they fear the Druze will again massacre them, as they did in 1860 and 1977. The Druze, for their part, are fearful because the 20,000-strong militia of the Lebanese Forces has moved into the Chouf behind the Israeli Army. They say the Christians are out to impose their authority on the historic mountain stronghold of the Druze.
Lebanese Forces officials say they are only trying to establish a balance of power between Christians and Druze and end what they allege is the Christian status as dhimmi, second-class citizens, in the Chouf.
"We do not want the Lebanese Christians to live like the Christians in Damascus or like the Copts in Egypt," said Karim Pakradouni, a top Lebanese Forces official. "We are not going to accept it."
One of the few positions shared by Druze and Christian leaders here is their charge that Israel aggravated the sectarian strife here. Both sides cite numerous specific incidents.
When asked why Israel might be doing this, the constant refrain from both Druze and Christians is, "Divide and rule."
["The whole idea is absurd," said an Israeli official consulted in Jerusalem. "No logic can explain any Israeli interest in doing such a thing. It is clearly stated that Israel's goal is to get out of Lebanon as soon as possible. What interest could Israel have in playing the policeman and endangering its own soldiers?"]
Here and in a half dozen other villages visited in the Chouf, both Druze and Christians accused the Israelis of offering or providing arms first to one side and then to the other.
One village they cite where this allegedly happened is Ayn Zhalta, in the eastern Chouf, where they say the Israeli Army first approached the Christian head of the municipality and then the Druze mayor with an arms offer.
Christian and Druze leaders also charge that the Israelis have even fired into both Christian and Druze quarters here in Kfar Matta and elsewhere to get the two sides shooting at each other.
Even top officials of the Lebanese Forces, the Israelis' closest ally in Lebanon, now seem to believe that their erstwhile supporters are deliberately inciting the trouble for their own political ends.
"The Druze have the green light from Israel," said Pakradouni. "Israel is using the Chouf with the aim of pressuring [President Amin] Gemayel," he added, referring to the Israeli demand for a Lebanese-Israeli peace treaty or at least the normalization of relations between the two countries.
Particularly troublesome to Lebanese Forces leaders is the issue of why the Israeli Army suddenly pulled its troops out of the village of Kfar Nabrakh on Nov. 8, just before a Druze attack on a Christian funeral procession that left 10 dead and 13 wounded. Later, the Israelis returned.
Fady Frem, the new leader of the Lebanese Forces command council, is asking this question while saying there is "no concrete proof of their [the Israelis'] guilt in instigating incidents in the Chouf."
From the time the Israeli Army entered the Chouf in June, during the first week of its invasion of Lebanon, it has been working hand in hand with the Lebanese Forces, seeking to expand the militia's authority there.
In Bayt ad Din, the old Lebanese summer capital, the Israelis even forced a mostly Druze battalion of the regular Lebanese Army to leave its barracks after it mildly resisted their entry into the town, and then turned the quarters over to the Lebanese Forces -- which had not been there before.
In Jazzin, farther south, the Israelis have allowed the Lebanese Forces to set up two training camps and to establish a presence deep inside a region supposedly controlled by the Christian-led militia force of their other ally, former Lebanese Army Maj. Saad Haddad.
On the main Beirut-Damascus highway and in a half dozen Chouf villages such as Suq al Gharb and Shimlan, the Lebanese Forces are allowed by the Israelis to operate checkpoints and check identity papers, a major source of irritation to the Druze.
At the same time, the Israeli Army, under pressure from its own highly vocal Druze population, has allowed the Druze of the Chouf to keep their arms and militia and also has involved itself deeply in their internal politics.
It has established a close relationship with the leader of the conservative Druze faction, Majid Arslan, and tried to forge an alliance between him and the Lebanese Forces against Walid Jumblatt, the leftist Druze leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.
The Israel Defense Forces, asked in Jerusalem to explain its policy toward the Christian-Druze conflict, denied arming either faction and said the weapons "were in their hands since the civil war and even before that . . . arms in the possession of the Druze faction of Jumblatt's supporters were provided to them by the Palestine Liberation Organization before (Israel's) operation.
["The IDF has no interest and no case for direct intervention in any conflict between Druze and Christians in Lebanon. However, the IDF policy is to prevent killing and attacks against civilians in those areas of Lebanon under its control . . . (and) takes all necessary steps to keep peace and security of the two rival sides even at the cost of danger to the lives of our own soldiers" in the absence of Lebanese security forces.]
Whatever the objectives of Israeli policy, it has put Israeli officers trying to quell the troubles in the Chouf in difficult positions.
On Nov. 19, Druze militiamen killed five Lebanese Forces soldiers in a shootout. Three Western reporters watched as an Israeli paratroop major, who gave his name only as Elie, tried to intercede the next morning to calm the situation and avoid retaliation by the Christian milita.
"It's a dirty war. I don't understand it," the major said, after making it clear that he believed two of the five Christian soldiers had been needlessly executed after surrendering. "What happened last night is a dirty thing."
The Christian militia "have crushed the Shia and the Sunnis but they cannot crush us," retorted a Druze senior Socialist Party official, referring to the two main branches of Islam.
"Never. We will not live under a Phalango."
"Phalango" is the Israeli term for Phalangist, a member of the Christian party that leads the Lebanese Forces.