A Red Cross rescue team, in its most successful effort so far, today removed 32 wounded Palestinians from the besieged Burj al Barajinah refugee camp for medical treatment. An International Red Cross spokeswoman said, however, that there were still more than 100 casualties inside the densely populated camp in need of care.
The 32 wounded, who included a mother and her two children, equaled the total of casualties evacuated in three previous missions that had to be broken off because of security problems and interference by militiamen controlling the camps. Today's one-hour mission encountered no problems but was halted at sundown.
Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite Moslem Amal militia, which has come under criticism for barring the Red Cross entry to the three embattled camps, said today that the siege of Burj al Barajinah, the largest of the three, would continue but would not hamper humanitarian missions. The Red Cross still has not been able to enter Sabra or Shatila camps.
Berri also strongly urged a Syrian military role in ensuring security in Lebanon.
"No one can ensure security in Lebanon but the Syrians," Berri said at a press conference. He said Amal was "ready to hand in weapons" to the Syrian troops if they came as a peace-keeping force. "At that time we would have confidence in the state," he said. "Security would be Arab and national."
Lebanese President Amin Gemayel returned yesterday from two days of secretive talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad that are expected to yield cooperation in military measures to bring order between Lebanon's many warring groups. No communique was issued at the conclusion of the Assad-Gemayel talks, however, and Berri said today that if Gemayel had not expressed to Assad the need for Syrian troops, "he will have committed the greatest mistake."
Western diplomats who only a week ago said Syrian military intervention in Lebanon was highly unlikely conceded today that the possibility should not be ruled out.
There are about 30,000 Syrian troops stationed in central and northern Lebanon. Although Gemayel hinted before his return yesterday that they would be instrumental in carrying out security and reform plans in concert with the Lebanese Army, no timetable or detailed framework for active Syrian assistance in managing the crisis has been disclosed.
While observers say they believe the Syrians would not embark on any direct move before the Palestinian-Shiite conflict is resolved, there is pressure on Damascus both regionally and from its allies to put an end to the bloodshed in Lebanon, especially in and around the Palestinian camps.
Tension has threatened to spill over into the sensitive Bekaa region, where followers of Abu Musa, a Syrian-backed Palestinian foe of Yasser Arafat, clashed with Shiite militiamen Friday night. Syrian troops east of Baalbek had to step up patrols to ease the standoff, which began when Abu Musa's units were seen setting up an antiaircraft position, Amal sources said.
Today's rescue mission at Burj al Barajinah was the most successful since fierce clashes broke out May 19 between Shiite militiamen and Palestinian guerrillas. The Shiites accuse the Palestinians of seeking to make a comeback as a fighting force in Lebanon -- both in the camps on the southern edge of Beirut and in southern Lebanon.
International Red Cross spokeswoman Sophie Martin said all groups were cooperative today and she expressed hopes that rescue efforts could be pursued.
"I am very happy for those we were able to get out, and I still hope we can evacuate the others," she said tonight.
Today's convoy included three ambulances each from the International Red Cross and the Lebanese Red Cross. The patients were taken to hospitals in Druze-controlled mountain areas. West Beirut hospitals have not been safe for Palestinians.
There is no accurate figure on the number of casualties in the two weeks of fighting in and around the camps. Conservative estimates have put it at 500 dead and 1,200 wounded, apparently not including Palestinians still in the camps.
Martin said militiamen supervising the rescue operation were much more relaxed and cooperative than before. Last week a disagreement over an Amal condition for the release of Palestinian prisoners interrupted a mercy mission.
Berri, meanwhile, criticized the United States and France for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution Friday condemning violence against civilians in Lebanon, especially Palestinian refugees, Reuter reported. "Once more French socialism has proved that it is not far from Zionism," Berri said.
In Tel Aviv, a military spokesman said the Israeli Army killed two guerrillas Friday night in its self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon. He said there were no Israeli casualties in the clash near Hasbaya.