John Yemma reports on Israeli-Phalange cooperation
Israel's Army of occupation is working ever more openly with the Lebanese Phalange to run Palestinian and Syrian forces out of the country.
A tour June 27 of the mountain region east of Beirut along the Damascus highway, where heavy fighting took place last week, revealed that once the Israeli Army captured strategic towns it was turning them over to the Phalange.
In Alayh, Souq el Garb, Btarram, and Bhamdun Phalangists were policing the towns and arresting Palestinian and Lebanese suspects while Israeli soldiers rested or moved farther east.
Similarly, the Phalangist flag -- a Lebanese cedar stylized to look like a spearhead -- is seen now along Lebanon's coast in the towns of Khalde, Damour, Saadiyat, Jiye, and Sidon. These were Palestinian and Lebanese leftist strongholds before the Israeli Army overran them earlier this month. In some of these towns, the Phalange had at least a token political presence before the Lebanese civil war began in 1975. In many, however, the Phalange is gaining new territory.
From the Phalangist stronghold in eastern Beirut, hundreds of young men in uniform were being trucked to these newly captured towns to take control. What this seems to mean is that the Israelis, despairing of any hope that the Lebanese central government can again exercise its authority in the country, are turning their attention almost exclusively to the Phalange.
By the same token, the Phalange, a right-wing Lebanese politico-military power affiliated with the Maronite Christian commmunity, is dropping almost all pretense of neutrality and openly cooperating with the Israeli Army. This bodes ill for the Lebanese government of President Elias Sarkis. With the power of the Phalange growing, the Syrians and Palestinians increasingly contained or driven out of Lebanon, and Israel clearly behind him, Phalange chief Bashir Gemayel may attempt to take control of the central government either by parliamentary or military means.
On the battlefield, this Israeli-Phalangist marriage of convenience may mean that Israel is bent on accomplishing what the Phalange failed to do in the spring of 1981 - to link up with pro-Phalange forces in the Bekaa Valley city of Zahle. Israel's military advance the last few days puts it almost at the peak of the Lebanon mountain range overlookimg Zahle.
On the Damascus highway June 27 Israelis occupied the town of Bhamdoun while Syrians were dug in around the town of Sofar. Though a cease-fire was in effect at this writing, the Israelis were sending military equipment and supplies to the front for what could be an upcoming push.
In the solid little villages newly taken by the Israeli Army and patrolled by the Phalange, there at present seems to be an acceptance of the new occupying powers. Though destruction in some of the towns, especially Bhamdoun, was widespread, townsfolk blamed Syrian and Palestinian soldiers more than the Israelis. Civilian casualties were in the hundreds, but fewer than a score were reported killed.