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Rival factions try to firm up Beirut ceasefire in wake of violent clashes

After some of the most violent fighting Lebanon has witnessed for many months , rival right-wing factions in eastern Beirut and other parts of the country appeared to have drawn back from the brink of an inter-Christian civil war.

Leaders of the two biggest right-wing groups, Pierre Gemayel of the Falangists and former president of Lebanon Camille Chamoun of the National Liberal Party (NLP), held a long meeting to consolidate a ceasefire between their followers, which was announced July 7.

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They also agreed to withdraw their gunmen from the streets of east Beirut's Christian residential areas, and steps were taken to implement this immediately.

About 75 people, including many civilians were reported killed and many others wounded in the battles that broke out July 7 btween the two factions in east Beirut and the Christian hinterland to the north and east.

Sporadic fighting was reported continuing along the coast and in some mountain districts on July 8.

During what NLP leadr Chamoun Termed "a terrible day," Falangist gunmen stormed and occupied about 15 of the NLP's offices and barracks in Beirut and elsewhere, after battles in which these private armies deployed heavy artillery, rockets, and even Super-Sherman tanks.

The NLP and the Falangists are traditional rivals for control of the Christian areas, but for the past six years of strife in Lebanon they have been closely allied in the self-styled Lebanese Front of right-wing Christian factions.

Fourteen months ago, three days of bitter fighting between the two groups led to emergency talks and the announcement of a merger between the parties. But unity remained strictly on paper, and it was not long before friction resumed between militants on the ground.

The past few days also have seen violent clashes between rival left-wing groups in largely Muslim west Beirut. These have been less bloody and less significant politically, since Syrian troops from the Arab peace-keeping force are the basic security factor in the western quarters, and they intervened to stabilize th situation.

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But the current fighting demonstrated the frightening firepower in the hands of ill-controlled party gunmen and emphasized the inability of the state authorities to impose security in any part of the country.

Paradoxically, though, the state might emerge from the current turmoil with its role enhanced -- not by imposing its authority by force, which it could not possibly do, but by invitation from the parties concerned.

At the end of last week, limited clashes between the same right-wing Christian factions, this time to the east of Beirut, led them to appeal for intervention by the Lebanese Army, which President Elias Sarkis has been quietly building up.

There now are strong calls for the Army's deployment in all the areas affected by the latest violence. Such a move, combined with a standing-down of the militias, would greatly strengthen the presence and prestige of the state.

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