In the courtyard of the main Lebanese government offices for southern Lebanon in Sidon, occupying Israeli soldiers fiddled nervously, and gloomily, with their short-wave radios this morning for the latest news from Israel about the independent commission's report on the Beirut massacre.
On the other side of the concertina wire dividing the courtyard between the Israelis and the remaining Lebanese government offices, a circle of mukhtars (community headmen) sat in the privacy of an office, and laughed heartily about the setback to the Israelis as they sipped Turkish coffee from tiny cups.
If the commission report was awaited anxiously in Israel for the purpose of knowing who was culpable in the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, the interest here tended to focus on the effect of the report on the latest occupying power.
In the Palestinian camps of Beirut, there was a strong reaction to the commission findings, a feeling that they did not go far enough.
"Sharon deserves to be executed because he was responsible to protect the lives of the civilian people," a young Palestinian told a reporter. "If the militiamen had not received an okay from Sharon or from the Israelis they would not have done it." But that sense of outrage was a minority view.
Most Lebanese shied from comment. A spokesman for the Lebanese Forces Christian militia called the report a "purely internal Israeli affair. If they come up with proof, then we can comment," the spokesman, Fadi Hayek, told The Associated Press. Assad Germanos, the military prosecutor in charge of the Lebanese government's inquiry into the massacre, also declined comment. Germanos, who has said his report will be out in March or April, said he might make a public statement later in the week.
The only Lebanese government official to comment publicly was Prime Minister Shafiq Wazzan, a Moslem, who told The Associated Press the Israeli commission's report "at least uncovered to the world who was really responsible."
This is not a country given to dwelling on the horrors of death, violence and destruction. A Lebanese diplomat, attempting last fall to explain the relative lack of uproar over Sabra and Shatila here, said there had been so much carnage over the years here that to single out this massacre would be regarded as showing special favoritism.
The interest here in the Israeli commission report centers on Ariel Sharon, a towering figure in the latest of the series of occupying forces dating from the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans on up to the Arabs, Ottomans and French.
In recent weeks, Sharon has been active here, leaning hard on his Christian allies to reach a settlement with Israel on his terms, his Israeli Defense Forces working at an accelerated pace to create a political and military structure in the 25-to-30-mile "security zone" Israel has insisted upon.
Western military observers who have monitored Israeli activities here were puzzled last week at the intensity of efforts to put together a political-military organization unveiled Sunday in Tyre, south of Sidon, as the Council of the Unified South. An Israeli Army major, identifying himself as "Abu Tamara" in Arabic, addressed the crowd gathered for the council's inauguration, saying Israel would support the organization "as long as it puts Lebanon's interest above any other interest."
But the mosque where the group met had to be guarded by Israeli troops. The night before, a local nationalist group had enthusiastically announced the defeat of Israeli-organized militias in armed clashes.
Sharon's pressure tactics on his Christian friends have led to public statements in which they have distanced themselves from the Israelis. Longstanding Christian leaders Camille Chamoun and Pierre Gemayel have reacted with strong criticism and no measure of fear. Chamoun called the Israeli defense minister an "evil genius."
Even the Lebanese Forces, the Christian militia Israel trained and armed, whose units have been accused by the Israeli commission of committing the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, broadcast this statement on their radio station yesterday:
"The Lebanese Forces . . . will not be an instrument in the hands of anyone, and are not the agent of anyone. They are a genuine Lebanese force and are the ally of those who sincerely seek their alliance."