Leaders of Israel's small Druze community called on the government today to remove Christian Phalangist militia units from Lebanon's Chouf mountain region before the Israeli Army withdraws from that strife-ridden area.
At what they said was the first news conference they had called in Israel's 35 years of existence, the Israeli Druze leaders said they fear that there will be a "massacre" of Lebanese Druze in the area if the Christian militiamen remain behind after an Israeli withdrawal. They also charged that Israel reignited the fighting between Christians and Druze in Lebanon last year when, in connection with its invasion of Lebanon, Israel allowed the Phalangist units into key areas of the Chouf mountains.
Zaidan Atashi, a former member of Israel's parliament and chief spokesman for the group, said that since Israel "injected" the Christian militiamen into the area there has been a series of "mutual kidnapings and slaughter" by both sides.
"If Israel wants to withdraw, it will have to secure the residents of that area," Atashi said. "They will have to take away the Phalangist militia exactly like they brought them in. Otherwise there will be massacres like Sabra and Shatilla," a reference to the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut where Phalangist militias killed hundreds of Palestinian refugees last fall.
Zaidan said government officials here have so far not responded to the Druze demands.
About 40,000 Druze live in Israel. Members of a religion that broke from traditional Islam centuries ago, the Druze here have lived peacefully in the Jewish state and are the only non-Jews who serve in the Israeli Army. Those attending today's news conference included two Druze who are reserve Army officers.
In Lebanon, Christian and Druze factions have been fighting off and on for more than 100 years. The clashes have increased in recent weeks, adding to the pressure on Israel to withdraw from the area, where the Israeli Army has suffered casualties as a result of the fighting.
The Druze leaders said that "hundreds" of Israeli Druze were prepared to go to Lebanon to fight alongside their fellow Druze against the Christians if necessary.
Renewed exchanges of artillery fire between Christian and Druze gunners in the Chouf mountains were reported today, according to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Moslem fundamentalists battled Syrian troops in the main telephone exchange, Reuter reported. First reports said one Moslem was killed.