Few Palestinians have been able to flee west Beirut
Israel wants civilians out of west Beirut - but for Palestinian civilians evacuation to east Beirut is virtually impossible.
As the Israeli Army pushes ever farther into west Beirut, noncombatant Palestinians - women and children included - are being given no sure opportunity to heed repeated Israeli warnings (broadcast over Israel radio's Arabic service and also by tank loudspeakers as they advance) to flee for their lives.
Almost all Palestinians trying to exit west Beirut are being turned back or detained by authorities in east Beirut, spot-checks by the Monitor confirm. Although this is not necessarily a result of Israeli policy, because it is widely known that they are unwelcome, most of the some 200,000 to 300,000 Palestinians in west Beirut are not even attempting to leave.
''Palestinians on the west side are filled with ideas that everybody here is wanting to jump on them, so they don't try,'' says an official with the Lebanese Front, the rightist, predominantly Maronite Christian organization that controls east Beirut. Soldiers with the Lebanese Front's military wing, the Phalange, are scrutinizing refugees at the crossings. ''I don't think you can change a psychological situation like this in such a short time. There has been too much brainwashing.''
This Lebanese Front official adds that Palestinians crossing to the east would not be welcomed by the mostly Maronite population. ''The population has been sensitized to Palestinians by seven years of war. You can't ask Mr. Everybody to discern between guerrillas and women and children. You're dealing with human nature.''
At the same time, there is a daily stream of Lebanese refugees leaving the west in anticipation of what many here believe will be growing Israeli military pressure, perhaps culminating in an attempt to storm west Beirut and crush the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Red Cross workers at the Antillas headquarters north of Beirut said that Palestinians simply were not being allowed to cross the lines. Those Lebanese who do come east, the Red Cross said, were either staying at hotels, with relatives, in temporary shelters at schools and monasteries, or were going to safer parts of Lebanon. Red Cross officials said the refugee influx was presenting no major problems.
But the west side of Beirut is fast becoming home only to Palestinians and to their Lebanese leftist allies, who along with the Palestinians have fought the Phalangists since 1975. Israeli miltary operations, then, are likely to kill or injure many hundreds of those west Beirut residents who fear trusting their lives to their enemies on the east side. On the west, according to an official with Save the Children, 80 percent of the casualties already have been civilians.
When a major Israeli push might occur was uncertain. Israeli military movements Aug. 8 indicated that a final assault was not yet in the works. Israeli tanks and ground troops were probing slowly forward in the Ouzai neighborhood, which is north of Beirut airport along the Mediterranean coast. There was little movement on the three other fronts: east of Borj el Barajneh refugee camp, at the National Museum, and at the seaport.
Israeli leaders, however, continued at this writing to express pessimism about the possibility of a political settlement, especially if any Palestinian fighters remain in west Beirut at the time a proposed multinational peace force arrives. The United States, France, Lebanon, and the PLO are believed to have agreed on a plan by which multinational troops would arrive after some PLO forces had left the capital. The balance of the guerrillas would depart later.
Israel objects to this, contending that once the peace-keepers arrive, they will give the PLO a shield and it will not go. US envoy Philip C. Habib was to meet with Israel's leading hawk, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, to try to convince him that diplomacy is still viable.
But Mr. Sharon may be reluctant to be so convinced, given the dismay Israeli leaders were expressing Aug. 8 with Washington over its mounting criticism of Israel in this three-month-old war. An Israeli Cabinet meeting Aug. 8 was seen as possibly decisive.
Observers here say that although Israeli leaders might have preferred the encroachment and siege campaign to continue - so as to minimize Israeli military casualties and to force civilians out of west Beirut - they may decide to move quickly on the military front to preempt further erosion of American support.
The tightening Israeli military grip was still being accompanied by an Israeli-ordered cutoff of water and electricity to west Beirut (the former intermittent). Relief stores were allowed in only occasionally, and as a consequence more and more civilian Lebanese and expatriates were leaving.