Col. Said Abu Musa, the leader of a mutiny in Lebanon against Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, has made it clear that he has no intention of calling off his revolt.
The rebel leader's stance comes despite a meeting of the PLO's broad-based Central Council that Arafat has convened in Tunis to counter the challenge to his leadership.
After he dismissed out of hand any recommendations the Central Council might come up with, western analysts here said they saw his stand as a sign that Syria was still determined to see Arafat's power curtailed. The determination in Damascus, Abu Musa's strongest backer, has stuck despite repeated Arab and foreign mediation efforts to end the Palestinian mutiny in the Bekaa Valley, which remains under the control of about 40,000 Syrian troops.
It is still debated whether Abu Musa's rebellion against Arafat last May was an independent action or a maneuver directed by Syrian President Hafez Assad. But almost three months after the mutiny erupted, analysts here said the rebellion continues only because of Syria's logistic, political and military support.
Abu Musa announced his rejection of any conclusions of the Central Council during a talk to a new unit that rallied to his forces in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon yesterday. The announcement was an indication that he--and his Syrian backers on whom he has become dependent--were no nearer to compromise with Arafat than when the revolt began May 17, ostensibly as a protest against the appointment of two loyal but discredited military men to key Bekaa commands.
In Tunis, Palestinian leaders called for unity and a renewal of dialogue with Syria, Reuter reported.
Abu Mayzer, a member of the PLO's Executive Committee, told reporters that several delegates to the 81-member Central Council had frankly criticized aspects of the organization of Arafat's Fatah guerrilla group. They urged a better balance within the umbrella PLO, he added.
Despite the criticisms, all speakers Friday stressed the need for unity and a resumption of dialogue with Damascus, he said.
Whatever the validity of Abu Musa's initial complaints--alleging corruption of some leaders around Arafat and his supposed growing aloofness from the PLO rank and file--the dispute increasingly has become a bitter personal feud between Arafat and Assad.
The dispute goes back at least to 1966. At that time, Arafat was jailed in Syria for almost two months as the result of a plot he claims privately was directed by Assad, then the minister of defense.
The bitterness of their exchanges has been such that many foreign and Arab diplomats here wonder if there can ever be rapprochement, despite past instances when they have papered over their differences.
On June 24, Assad ordered Arafat expelled from Syria after the PLO leader publicly accused Syria of instigating Abu Musa's rebellion and preventing loyal PLO units in the Bekaa from putting it down.
Since then, the exchanges have grown nastier. Last month, the government newspaper Tishrin called Arafat a traitor to the Palestinian cause he leads and an "agent of Satan." Arafat replied by accusing Syria of "a conspiracy . . . organized with such care and so methodically aimed at jeopardizing our image, our institutions and prestige."
Arafat has insisted that he would be ready to sit down with the Syrians any time to try to resolve the dispute, which has badly tarnished his movement's image and credibility. Assad, however, has said he would never meet Arafat unless he first publicly apologizes for blaming Syria for the mutiny.
Because the mutiny has broken out in Fatah, Arafat's own organization and power base and the group that constitutes 80 percent of the eight-group PLO, Assad also has turned aside all mediators on the ground that the dispute was an internal one. Would-be mediators have included representatives from Moscow as well as from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and the Arab League.
There are almost daily armed clashes breaking out between Arab loyalists and rebels in the Bekaa.
Senior PLO officials close to Arafat say Syrian protestations of innocence are nonsense. They point out that Syria allowed the dissidents to capture PLO supply depots in Damascus that were under Syrian guard at the beginning of the revolt. They added that Syrian military units have blocked Arafat loyalists seeking to reinforce PLO outposts in the Bekaa under attack by Abu Musa's men.
More damning, they say, is the fact that Abu Musa has been supported by units loyal to Ahmed Jebril, a former Syrian military officer who commands a Palestinian splinter group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. The group is funded by Syria and Libya and is generally assumed to be under their direct command.
Arafat's backers say Abu Musa is being supported by several hundred Libyan soldiers in the Bekaa under direct Syrian military command.
Although Arafat's aides are no longer accusing the Syrian Army of supporting the attacks on his positions--as they did two months ago--they claim that the Syrian Army intervenes in the battles each time Abu Musa's men are getting the worst of it.
PLO leaders based in Damascus--who have tried to remain neutral out of recognition that the PLO needs Syrian support--had hoped that recent messages sent to Assad and Arafat from Saudi King Fahd might break the impasse. Fahd's messages urged reconciliation in the name of Arab unity.
Instead, the war of words has escalated to the point that it seems to have undermined seriously the Central Council's chances of cooling the situation as it meets in Tunis.
After a particularly bitter round of fighting between rival Palestinian factions in the Bekaa broke out anew last week, Arafat infuriated the Syrians by making an open appeal to Arab heads of state to bring pressure on Syria and Libya to stop the attacks on his forces.
A Syrian government spokesman replied with the most savage attack yet on Arafat.
"Anyone who has dealt with Mr. Arafat knows quite well that he is not characterized by honesty, straightforwardness and clear vision . . . ," the spokesman said.
Arab and foreign analysts noted that the attack for the first time omitted Arafat's title of chairman and referred to him only as "Mr. Arafat." The public demotion, they suggested, could presage a Syrian campaign to advance a new leader for the PLO or to begin building a separate PLO.
Thus Abu Musa's rejection of Central Council resolutions is seen here as an important signal that he and his Syrian-supported rebels no longer consider the PLO's authority valid.