Lebanese President Amin Gemayel held a second round of intensive talks with his Syrian counterpart, Hafez Assad, in Damascus today amid hopes that their deliberations would produce a truce in the continuing fighting here between Shiite Moslem militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas.
Despite a widespread consensus in Lebanon that the all-Syrian Arab Deterrent Force should be redeployed in Beirut, political sources said no dramatic results were expected from the Syrian-Lebanese meeting. Western diplomats in Damascus and Beirut said it was "highly unlikely" that Syrian troops would be rushed in before a political reconciliation was reached and the explosive situation on the ground defused.
Beirut newspapers said Assad had to cut short a visit to Moscow to receive Gemayel, who had narrowly escaped death yesterday when rockets and Soviet-made Sagger guided missiles crashed into the main wing of his presidential palace outside Beirut minutes before he departed for Damascus.
Moscow has been critical of the fighting in and around the Palestinian refugee camps here. Although there has been no confirmation of Assad's reported visit to Moscow, Beirut-based Arab diplomats said that the Syrian leader may have been recalled there to hear the Soviets' views on the situation.
The Syrians would like to pacify Beirut at least until the final phase of the Israeli withdrawal is completed. Damascus radio said in a commentary today that "all the genuine factions in Lebanon are now convinced that the Syrian Arab option is the only one that will help consolidate a lasting settlement of the Lebanese crisis." It added that Syria was determined to put an end to the cycle of violence and carry out the decisions of the Assad- Gemayel meeting immediately, without detailing any eventual direct military intervention.
Travelers reaching Beirut from Damascus by land this week said there were no unusual troop movements indicating that such a move was imminent. Observers believe that since Syria had burned its fingers previously with heavy military involvement in Lebanon, it would not embark on such a step before securing airtight political cover and a free hand in managing the Lebanese crisis.
Today, Palestinian guerrilla factions opposed to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat continued to pound the outskirts of the three besieged Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra, Shatila and Burj al Barajinah from positions in Druze-controlled mountains overlooking Beirut. Some shells landed in the heart of west Beirut, killing a person near the Bristol Hotel and causing a huge fire. Christian residential areas also came under shelling from the mountain gunners.
Fighting around the camps continued sporadically, and there was no sign that any headway had been made in settling the 11-day-old conflict.
One of the issues on the agenda of the Gemayel-Assad talks is a Syrian request for Lebanon to withdraw a letter to the Arab League asking for a formal termination of the Arab Deterrent Force mandate in 1982. Syrian troops had been ordered into Lebanon in 1976 following an Arab League meeting and an official invitation by the Lebanese government.
In Damascus, Gemayel said that Syrian troops stationed in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon "could form a strong force capable of implementing such a settlement plan in cooperation with the Lebanese Army." There are roughly 30,000 Syrian soldiers stationed in central and northern Lebanon.
Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, added that "Lebanon has been and still is Arab and is betting on the Syrian option."