The Lebanese government today sought to hold the first meeting of the Army and the three militia groups involved in the fighting here to consolidate quickly the two-day-old cease-fire. But disagreement over the site prevented it from taking place.
Nonetheless, only minor violations of the cease-fire were reported today, primarily in the southern suburbs where snipers touched off several clashes between the Army and Shiite militiamen. One Italian member of the multinational peace-keeping force was wounded.
Efforts continued today to make arrangements for supervision of the cease-fire by roughly 600 neutral observers from France, Italy and the United Nations. President Amin Gemayel was reported to have already discussed the issue by telephone with U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, but the exact mission and authority of the observer force still has not been worked out.
U.S. and Lebanese officials are known to be concerned about getting outside observers into place as soon as possible in an effort to prevent fighting from resuming, as it has so often after past cease-fires.
Meanwhile, reports from northern city of Tripoli said 17 Palestinians were killed and seven wounded in heavy fighting early this morning between guerrillas loyal to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and those opposing him. Both sides belong to a Libyan-backed splinter faction under the command of Ahmed Jibril.
The fighting, which was not directly related to that halted by the cease-fire, took place in the Baddawi refugee camp. It is a stronghold of Arafat supporters and was attacked by dissidents belonging to Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command who have a base just outside.
Observers here said the attack could herald the start of a Syrian-backed campaign to crush Arafat's forces in and around Tripoli, his remaining base of operations in Lebanon. Arafat arrived there late last week to try to stage a comeback.
Today, Palestinian guerrillas inside Baddawi exchanged artillery fire with Syrian forces seven miles to the east.
Syrian security forces still have 1,000 to 1,500 Arafat loyalists surrounded in a valley in the Hermel mountains 50 miles north of the Bekaa Valley and are demanding the surrender of all weapons before allowing them to go to Tripoli. Syria ordered them out of the Bekaa late last week and took two guerrilla commanders as hostages until the operation is completed.
Local press reports noted today that the cease-fire is the 179th in Lebanon since the 1975-76 civil war--a reflection of the general skepticism here about the current one. All sides are taking advantage of the halt in hostilities to resupply their forces and consolidate positions.
Lebanese authorities ran into the first hurdle in getting the cease-fire accord implemented as the four parties on a military committee overseeing the truce failed to agree on a meeting place.
The problem was understood to be finding a place in or near the capital that delegates from the three militias felt was safe to go to. The meeting had been scheduled for the Defense Ministry in Yarze in the hills east of the capital.
Initial reports said that it might take place now in Khalde, just south of the airport. Khalde, where the Lebanese-Israeli talks were held, is now under Lebanese Army control but close to the Druze and Shiite Moslem suburbs of the capital.
The four parties on the security committee are the Lebanese Army and the Druze, Christian Phalangist and Shiite Amal militias. All have picked their representatives but procedures, including who will chair the meetings, are still being worked out.
Meanwhile, Public Works Minister Pierre Khoury said today that the Beirut International Airport, closed for a month, might reopen as soon as Thursday if the cease-fire holds. Middle East Airlines personnel were called back to work today to prepare for the reopening and workmen were clearing the debris of war from the runways.
Life in the capital was once again normal today with massive traffic jams made worse by the return of many refugees from the south. But an 8 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew remained in force and was extended yesterday to include predominantly Christian east Beirut.
The only area of the capital where troubles continued was in the Christian suburb of Mreije, between the Shiite-controlled districts of Burj Burajinah and Hay Sellum.
There, attempts to reach an agreement between the government and Amal failed for the third time yesterday and the Shiite militia ran the Army out of the Christian enclave once again. Amal spokesmen said that 240 Army troops taken captive yesterday were released last night but that the Army would not be allowed to return.