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Attacks jolt Lebanese hopes for reconciliation and point up vulnerability of peacekeepers

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The dawn bomb attacks on United States and French peacekeeping forces in Beirut have badly shaken the Lebanese - and the few remaining hopes that eight years of violence and bloodshed in Lebanon will ever end.

Coming on the eve of scheduled reconciliation talks, the simultaneous kamikaze-style attacks by trucks laden with some 2,000 pounds of explosives also emphasize the vulnerability of the US, French, British, and Italian contingents who are serving on a peacekeeping mandate in Lebanon.

All four of the forces have come under attack since the new civil strife began in Lebanon in mid-August.

But because of US and French decisions to counterattack by land, sea, or air, both countries have recently been labeled partisan by Muslim dissidents. The dissidents are demanding greater power from the government led by minority Christians.

There were no assaults Sunday against the Italian or British contingents, which have so far not become involved in returning fire.

It was not known at time of writing whether the attacks would affect the long-anticipated summit of Lebanon's leading warlords. The summit is scheduled to convene in Switzerland within the next 10 days. It is aimed at trying to resolve Lebanon's domestic crisis and to decide on a new formula of power-sharing among rival Christians and Muslims. The Sunday bombings underlined what many Lebanese and foreign diplomats feel is the lack of commitment to peace by the various factions and their foreign sponsors.

Diplomatic sources said US officials were involved in heavy negotiations Sunday with various local political leaders, including Nabih Berri, chief of the Amal Shiite Muslim faction, to try to stabilize the situation.

There is little the 5,400-man multinational force can do to avoid the precision terrorist tactics used in the suicide missions, which were identical to the April 18 bombing of the US Embassy and the December 1981 explosion at the Iraqi Embassy.

US Sixth Fleet warships, including the USS New Jersey, closed in around the Beirut coastline after the explosion, but the move seemed only to reflect the impotence of power, since, under the current rules of engagement, there is little the Navy can do in support of the Marines in the vast majority of attacks. The multinational force mandate allows only defensive actions.

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