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Lebanon's plight

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Lebanon again seems poised on the edge of a major eruption. So tangled is the situation that it is difficult to sort out what is happening. But the flareup of fighting is a reminder of the tragedy of that tiny land and the seeming inability of the outside world or the Lebanese themselves to cope. Because of internal and external conflicts Lebanon has been reduced to a shadow of a nation. Renewed awareness of its plight should spur the world community to greater effort to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Who is most responsible for the outbreak of fighting between Christians and Syrian units in northern Lebanon is not clear. Secretary of State Haig, warning of "serious" consequences if the fighting continues, blames Syria. Damascus, on the other hand, claims the Lebanese Christians are trying to encircle Syrian soldiers who are in Lebanon policing a cease-fire. In the background, meanwhile , simmer all the local rivalries and conflicts which so complicate the Lebanese picture: Christians against Syrians and UN units, Christians against Muslims, Christians against other Christians, Lebanese against Palestinians, Israelis against Palestinians. There is more than enough blame to go around for the general chaos.

While Western and other diplomats work behind the scenes to calm the waters again, two things might be said about the situation. One is that Lebanon will have difficulty pulling itself together as long as the Palestinian question remains unresolved. Lebanon is now where some 50,000 Palestinian guerrillas, their refugee families, and their political organization are based, and no country could easily survive the stresses and tensions arising from the presence of such a militant force and its continuing war with Israel. How can any government in Beirut function normally when the country remains a battleground for Arab-Israeli confrontation?

It is obvious that a negotiated settlement of the Arab-Israeli territorial dispute, including the refugee problem, would also lift a long and heavy burden on Lebanon.

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