Lebanese Army soldiers relaxed and sought to enjoy themselves on the first day of the cease-fire despite continued sniping and sporadic small arms fire on the outskirts.
The shell-battered mountain village, the scene of the heaviest fighting between the Lebanese Army and Druze-led antigovernment forces, offered some strange sights today as soldiers of the weary but proud American-trained Eighth Brigade let off steam after almost two weeks of steady battle.
At the western entrance to the village, some smiling soldiers were sitting astride a children's merry-go-round while others were riding bicycles or playing paddle ball.
One private, wearing a sweat band, was roller-skating down the main street. Another played a child's toy saxophone and a third the piano in the dining room of the battered Hajjer Hotel that has been serving as one of the Army's command posts.
"War is hard but it's good," remarked the youthful soldier on roller skates, who said he had spent 21 consecutive days fighting mostly atop a hill in nearby Kayfun against what he described as "Palestinians," "Syrians" and "communists."
Morale and confidence among the troops seemed extremely high after they beat off repeated tank-led ground assaults on the village, which has a commanding view of the capital.
Small groups sat on walls and in the streets littered with piles of empty tank shell casings, drinking coffee and discussing the situation with reporters. Opinions seemed divided as to whether the cease-fire would hold or prove ephemeral as is their wont in Lebanon. But most seemed to think more fighting lay ahead.
American reporters are popular here these days because of U.S. aid to the Army in the form of uniforms, armored personnel carriers, tanks, ammunition and naval warship gunfire during the heaviest days of the offensive to capture this town.
The United States supplied 40,000 rounds of 155mm mortar and artillery fire, which, at the times of heaviest shelling, was consumed at the rate of 3,600 shells an hour, according to western military sources.
Suq al Gharb, a summer resort village of mostly Christian residents, is almost deserted of its civilian population, though a few residents returned today to check on their homes and shops.
One couple who remained throughout the siege was Mounir Saad and his Norwegian wife, Turid. They had returned here from Las Palmas, Spain, where Mounir owned a souvenir shop three years ago. He invested most of his 30 years' savings in fixing up the family house here.
"I hate myself for coming back here," said Mounir, still extremely distraught and dazed after two weeks of almost constant shelling that has left his ears "humming."
"After working very hard for 30 years, I got some money, not much, but enough to make a decent life," he said showing three reporters the damage done to his remodeled stone house by a missile that hit next door."
Asked why he had stayed on when nearly everyone else had taken refuge in Beirut, Mounir replied, "They always say, home sweet home."
He said he knew of two other familes who had stayed on in his neighborhood but had seen them only twice when going to get water from a village fountain.
He and his wife huddled in one corner of the house near a now shattered window for the past two weeks, counting shells that five days ago came down around the house at a rate of 45 in 10 minutes.
Turid Saad said she had escaped being hit by flying glass and shrapnel only because she had decided to get a cup of coffee and was in the kitchen on the other side of the house when the shell hit next door.
Asked what he thought about President Reagan's comment that Suq al Gharb was of "vital interest" to the United States and would not let it fall, Mounir exploded in anger.
"What a big lie that is! How come the United States didn't get interested for eight years? Now since one week ago it is interested," he said.
The Saads said the cease-fire had held today "85, 90, or 95 percent" around the village, adding, "It's a thousand times better than it was."
Ironically, after their two-week ordeal, Mounir was nearly killed by a sniper today when he went to the northern edge of the village to get better water from another fountain.
Mounir said he and his wife were leaving Suq al Gharb and Lebanon "for good, as soon as the airport opens."
"I am just waiting to sell that for half price and I will go," he said, pointing to a huge color television set and rooftop antenna that cost him $600.