Lebanese officials said yesterday they will demand in negotiations with Israel that its troops leave Lebanon along with Syrian and Palestinian forces by Feb. 15.
No firm date for the beginning of the long delayed talks had been set by last night and there were reports that Lebanese and Israeli officials were still arguing about the agenda for the negotiations.
Officials in Lebanon and Israel indicated, however, that they would begin no later than early next week and indicated that they would alternate between Qiryat Shemona, an Israeli town just south of the Lebanese border, and Khaldah, a suburb of Beirut that was the scene yesterday of renewed fighting between rival Christian and Moslem Druze militiamen.
At least six people were killed in the battles in the hills southeast of Beirut, according to press reports from Lebanon. According to the accounts, artillery duels broke out after five men were killed in an ambush and shells and rockets fell as fighting spread to the town of Shweifat, close to Beirut airport where the U.S. Marine contingent in the multinational peace-keeping force is based.
In eastern Lebanon yesterday, two Israeli colonels were killed and three other officers wounded when their jeep struck a land mine. The Israeli Army command reported that a bomb exploded south of Beirut airport as an Army vehicle was passing and two other unexploded bombs were found in the area. There were no reports of casualties in that explosion.
Meanwhile, fighting continued in the Syrian-occupied port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. According to press accounts, gunmen there opened fire on a Syrian Army truck, killing a bystander and wounding three others, one critically.
In Beirut, a six-story building damaged by Israeli bombardment after the June 6 invasion of Lebanon collapsed as construction workers sought to repair it. Five persons were feared dead in the collapse and several others injured, Lebanese police reported.
As Lebanese and Israeli officials prepared for the withdrawal talks, they continued to indicate wide differences over what they expected to be the outcome of the negotiations over foreign troop withdrawal.
In Beirut, Ghassan Tueni, Lebanon's coordinator in the withdrawal talks, said on state television that Lebanon would not agree to a peace treaty or normalization of relations with Israel. Lebanon's moves toward normalization of relations would be "balanced and simultaneous with the general Arab movement," he said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, touring the Egyptian-Israeli border on the Gaza Strip, told reporters: "The central issue under discussion is the security arrangements and normalization" between Israel and Lebanon. Sharon said he expected the talks with the Lebanese would culminate in a nonbelligerency agreement between the two countries that would be "the first step toward peace, and I personally believe Lebanon will be the second Arab country which will have a peace agreement with Israel."
U.S. officials have tended to regard Sharon's remarks as being mostly directed at an Israeli public increasingly skeptical about the invasion of Lebanon. The view here is that Sharon is pressing for maximum concessions from Beirut in the negotiations to justify the invasion.
Sharon has said he has negotiated a draft agreement with Lebanese representatives -- whom he has declined to identify -- but the Beirut government denies it has had any negotiations with him.
In Jerusalem, a senior Israeli official told Reuter that David Kimche, the Foreign Ministry's director general, would probably head a six-man Israeli delegation to the withdrawal talks.
Sharon listed three elements to be negotiated simultaneously, according to the Associated Press:
Security arrangements in Lebanon that "would prevent any future possibility of any terrorist presence whether at the political or military level."
Prevention of any other "Arab military presence" in Lebanon.
Security arrangements in southern Lebanon and normalization entailing "open borders for people and merchandise, economic and other relations."
In Lebanon, a "working paper" for the negotiations that the Beirut government released to reporters stressed arrangements for the departure of foreign armies.
The Lebanese would like a two-stage withdrawal to be completed by Feb. 15, with Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian forces initially falling back nine miles from their positions around Beirut.
This would put the Syrians and Palestinians in the eastern Bekaa Valley near Syria's frontier with Lebanon and mean the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Chouf Mountains to the town of Damour.
U.S. officials expect that Israel would agree to withdraw from the Chouf. But if the Israelis leave, officials in Washington were not certain that the weak Lebanese Army was ready to move in. U.S. military officials here are drawing up plans for an expansion of the American military presence in Lebanon and are in contact with several other nations about providing troops for the multinational peace-keeping force.
Belgium and Portugal have indicated they are willing to provide troops. Because of their economic troubles, they have indicated they could do so only if the United States pays for them to go to Lebanon. graphics/photo: AP Defense Minister Sharon, touring Gaza Strip yesterday, called the "central issue" of the negotiations "security arrangements and normalization" between Israel and Lebanon.