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Maronites split over ties with Israel

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The explosion that killed Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel Sept. 14 has caused an ideological upheaval in many right-wing Christian quarters in Lebanon, according to inside reports from Beirut.

That killing, and the subsequent massacres in west Beirut refugee camps, have caused many right-wingers to rethink their former informal alliance with Israel, and to give new emphasis to conciliation with Lebanese Muslims.

Now, Bashir's elder brother Amin Gemayel - like him a luminary of the family-led Phalangist Party - is the family's new candidate in the presidential elections rescheduled for Sept. 21. He has issued a strong call for national unity, and has so far received a promise of support from 30 Muslim parliamentarians meeting in Beirut.

Leftist leader Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon's Druze community, has also phoned Amin Gemayel from Amman, Jordan, to promise the votes of his supporters in the 92-member parliament. And one report says that House Speaker Kamal Asaad, a Shiite Muslim, has also said he will back Gemayel.

But unlike Bashir's former candidacy, Amin's was at first contested by at least two other Maronite Christian candidates. (A 1943 agreement between the country's sects allotted the presidency to the Maronites in a distribution of high-level state positions.)

One of the other candidates is Raymond Edde, who since 1974 has warned against the existence of plans to partition Lebanon. But since 1976, his warnings have been voiced from exile in Paris, and he is thought to have little support.

The other candidate was the 82-year-old pro-Western politician Camille Chamoun, who was president from 1952 to 1958. But he withdrew his candidacy Sept. 20, citing concern for national unity.

Back in 1980, Bashir Gemayel launched a bloody, and apparently successful, battle against Chamoun's Tigers militia. Many Tigers were slaughtered.

But with the killing of Bashir, some of these former Chamounists, and some other members of Bashir's Lebanese Forces militia who are considered pro-Israeli , have reportedly split off from the Gemayel family mainstream. It is they, together with the Israeli-supported gunmen loyal to Maj. Saad Haddad, who were reported to be backing Chamoun's candidacy. Many in Beirut still fear these fighters might yet seek to block the new elections by force.

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