A tenuous cease-fire worked out here late yesterday between feuding Palestine Liberation Organization factions appeared to be holding today despite a few scattered clashes.
As rebels and supporters loyal to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat watched each other warily around this Bekaa Valley town, the PLO Executive Committee, meeting in Tunis, voted to send a six-man delegation to Damascus in an effort to end the eight-week-old rebellion, which has been backed by Syria.
Sources in Tunis told Washington Post correspondent Jonathan C. Randal that the delegation, headed by Khaled Fahoum, pro-Syrian chairman of the Palestine National Council, hopes to meet both with Syrian President Hafez Assad and the leaders of the PLO revolt, Nimr Saleh and Col. Said Musa. But the sources stressed that no firm arrangements for these meetings had been made.
The communique issued by Arafat's executive committee after a two-day session was carefully conciliatory, reflecting the chairman's weakened position and the desire of all members to avoid further bloodshed and splintering of the PLO.
The PLO communique avoided any criticism of Syria, expressing "deep regret" at its expulsion of Arafat last week. Instead, it spoke of the importance of "brotherly ties" and "strategic relations" with Syria and hailed its role as the "main front" against Israel.
In Damascus, a joint Saudi-Algerian mission trying to mediate the PLO dispute met with Syrian Foreign Minister Abdul Halim Khaddam but left without seeing Assad. Syria's official news agency said Khaddam and the visitors had agreed that "political efforts should be pursued in order to achieve reconciliation between the rival factions."
Here in eastern Lebanon, the cease-fire agreement negotiated under heavy pressure from Lebanese civilians and Palestinian refugees at the Wavell camp outside Baalbek calls for an end to kidnapings and roadblocks on major highways, freedom for ambulances of the Red Cross and Palestinian Red Crescent to travel freely, and an exchange of prisoners taken by both sides in the past week.
The prisoner exchange had not been completed by today and there were suggestions by pro-Arafat commanders that they did not believe the rebels would release all of the loyalists they held.
Khalid Wazir, known as Abu Jihad, military commander at Arafat's provisional headquarters in the northern port city of Tripoli, said he doubted the cease-fire would last.
"We fear that it may only be a cover" for another rebel attack, he said. "It depends on their aim."
"We are ready to fight again," one loyalist officer here said, "and they are ready."
A spokesman for rebel leader Musa, also known as Abu Musa, said, "We are still pressing our demands. What is going on is a series of uprisings."
Word of the cease-fire had caught Arafat loyalists in Tripoli by surprise. But Abu Jihad said local commanders had wide latitude to make such agreements.
Sources here said the impetus for the cease-fire had come from civilians who had been caught in the crossfire between the PLO factions here. Three weeks ago, five bystanders were killed and 20 others wounded in heavy fighting south of here. On Tuesday, Lebanese police reported that at least three civilians were wounded in exchanges of fire across the heavily traveled Beirut-Damascus highway.
The following day, commentators on Lebanese radio stations in this area, declaring that they were fed up with the fighting, called on civilians to shoot at PLO fighters on both sides if clashes erupted again.
An emergency committee of Lebanese leftist organizations and representatives of Palestinians in the Wavell camp here was formed a week ago. According to them and Arafat loyalist field commanders, it was their insistence on ending the fighting and their mediation that led to the cease-fire.
At the Wavell refugee camp, there was revelry today. About 100 men and boys marched through the narrow, dusty streets carrying large banners that said, "Yes to Palestinian unity. No to fighting." They waved silky black flags, which leaders of the demonstration said had been stitched yesterday by women in the camp as a symbol of mourning when there was disbelief that the cease-fire effort would succeed.
Abu Ossama Badran, an organizer of today's demonstration and one of the members of the committee that mediated the truce, said women in the camp wept last week after Syrian authorities expelled Arafat from Damascus.
The expulsion signaled deepening division, he said, at a time when the refugees already felt themselves vulnerable.
"Our people decided that if anyone shoots each other, they will be against him," he said.
Their fear has been not only that the PLO would be wrecked in the strife, he said, but also that Lebanese Shiite Moslems would carry out reprisals against Palestinian civilians rather than shooting at the warring PLO factions as they have threatened.
About a third of the 9,000 refugees at the Wavell camp fled here last year from camps in Beirut and southern Lebanon after the Israeli invasion. Getting caught in the crossfire is an experience they have shared.
An additional reason for wanting to keep the fighting out of the camp is that all of the factions in the PLO are represented there. It is not unusual to find a father belonging to the moderate wing of Fatah, Arafat's main base of support, while his son is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a radical Libyan-backed party in the PLO that has sided with the rebels.
In early June, when the first large clashes between rebels and loyalists broke out a mile away from the camp, women and children from Wavell marched to the scene of the fighting to express their displeasure.
After the emergency committee was formed last week, contacts were opened to both loyalist and rebel commanders, and Syrian officers. When shootings or kidnapings occurred near the camp, the committee immediately contacted all parties to keep trouble from spreading.
Both rebels and loyalists have used newspapers, leaflets and radio broadcasts into the camp in their efforts to win allies in the conflict.
But the refugees appear to have taken a stubborn middle stand. One leader of a small Marxist faction, the Popular Struggle Front, declared today, "This camp does not like any attack--from Arafat or from Abu Musa."