Calm returned today to this market center of the Bekaa Valley, where guerrillas loyal to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and rebels opposing his leadership battled for four hours yesterday in the first outbreak of violence in a month-long feud between the two factions.
Pro-Arafat spokesmen here and those speaking for the rebel group in Damascus went out of their way today to play down the importance of the incident and appeared seriously embarrassed that it had occurred.
Even more of an embarrassment to both factions was the fact that enraged Palestinian civilians, including women and children, intervened to stop the clash by forming a human chain and walking between the lines of the two factions.
In a violent episode in Beirut, the Libyan charge d'affaires, Abdul Kader Ghoqa, was wounded by an unknown gunman in a hotel Sunday, United Press International reported. Details on Page A21.
Casualties from the Bekaa fighting, according to local hospital and guerrilla sources, were fewer than first reported yesterday by Beirut radio stations, which spoke of at least eight dead and 17 wounded.
Local hospital and guerrilla sources said only four persons had died, including one Arafat loyalist and one Syrian intelligence agent, and seven others had been injured.
Two Lebanese farmers were also killed in the cross fire while working in their fields alongside the main road leading here from the Beirut-to-Damascus highway 18 miles to the south.
There was no sign of tension in or around Baalbek today, and Syrian soldiers manning checkpoints along the road allowed reporters to pass without any problem. The village just south of here, Majdaloun, where the rebels are based, was closed to outsiders.
The chief commander of Arafat's mainstream Fatah group for the Baalbek region, who identified himself as Lt. Col. Shastri, denied there had been any real "battle" and said the shoot-out between his men and supporters of the rebel leader, Abu Musa, over a checkpoint just south of the city had lasted only "five minutes."
But local residents said machine-gun and mortar fire, which began at 9 a.m., continued until 1 p.m. when the demonstration by 400 to 500 Palestinian civilians finally ended it.
The fighting began when the rebels attempted to set up a checkpoint near Majdaloun on the highway and pro-Arafat guerrillas tried to intervene to stop them. It is still not clear which side opened fire, but the mortar fire came from three or four guerrilla camps located on either side of the highway, witnesses said.
Shastri blamed a Libyan-backed Palestinian group led by Ahmed Jabril and another radical breakaway group headed by Abu Nidal for having prolonged the fighting yesterday by firing shells on the battle zone along the highway.
The two groups have come out in support of the revolt against Arafat's leadership of both Fatah and the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization. They have accused him, as do the rebels, of autocratic rule and giving up the armed struggle against Israel.
United Press International quoted Palestinian officials in Damascus as saying reinforcements from Jabril's group were seen on a military supply road crossing into the Bekaa Valley through Syria. the officials said.
Agence France-Presse reported that Arafat continued his tour of Third World nations, arriving in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The revolt, now supported by 20 to 30 officers, broke out over Arafat's appointment of two new commanders of PLO forces stationed in northern and eastern Lebanon. One of the appointees, Haj Ismael, has since been dismissed, but the other, Abu Hajem, remains in command here and in northern Lebanon.
Shastri insisted that the dispute was not over "individuals," however, and said the rebels had raised "an artifical problem" since Arafat had now rejected the Reagan peace initiative and recommitted himself to armed struggle.
He also said there would be no more armed clashes between pro- and anti-Arafat factions.
"This will not happen again," he added.