PLO evacuation solves one problem in Lebanon . . . but creates another
Each day a shipload of Palestinian guerrillas sails from Beirut port, it brings Lebanon closer to solving one problem while creating another.
For three days the Palestinians have gathered in a dusty soccer stadium of Sabra camp to say goodbye to their families. One young father leaned over the side of the pickup truck to cuddle his chubby baby one more time.
The baby cooed, but the father sobbed. The truck began rolling and the mother clutched the unsuspecting child back into her embrace - her eyes too blinded by tears to even catch a last glimpse of her husband.
Each day hundreds of women - wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers - wail and weep as they watch their menfolk depart for an uncertain future.
Some guerrillas say they have made plans to have their families join them in whichever of the eight Arab countries they wind up in.
Those plans may be stymied by the host countries.
Yasser Arafat's policy adviser, Hani Hassan, said that during the protracted negotiations over the evacuation families were a big stumbling block for the Syrians.
Mr. Hassan said Syria was willing to take a certain number of fighters, but by no means would it accept kin, because that would mean taking at least five times as many people.
The Palestine Liberation Organization reckons it is leaving behind 100,000 to 150,000 civilians in Beirut. There are another 200,000 to 250,000 in south Lebanon. The PLO is not sure of exact numbers because of the great floods of people back and forth fleeing the war first in the south and then in Beirut.
Before the PLO handed over its two Israeli prisoners of war, it demanded and got written assurance from the United States that its civilians left in Lebanon would be safe.
''We have assurances from the Lebanese government,'' PLO spokesman Mahmoud Labadi said.
Asked why the PLO should trust the Lebanese to make good on this, he replied with resignation.
''What choice do we have?'' he said, shrugging his shoulders.
The one thing that really sent chills through the PLO leadership has happened. PLO officials said over and over again they feared Beshir Gemayel as president. They said they feared he would massacre the Palestinian civilians.
Many Lebanese Muslims share that fear for their own people.
The more immediate problem for many Palestinians as well as Lebanese is that they are homeless as a result of the fighting.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said 90 percent of its work for Palestine refugees over the last 30 years in south Lebanon had been wiped out.
John Defrates, acting director of UNRWA, said documenting the destruction and needs in Beirut ''would take weeks.''
''We do not know how many people there are yet. The problem is not only of homeless, but it is also those who fled and come back to find squatters. The question is whether there will be an authority to remove those people by something other than gunpoint.''
Aug. 12, the last day Israeli planes bombed west Beirut, the primary target was the Palestinian refugee camps.
''What they did is make sure no one can ever live there again,'' said Jamil Hilal, spokesman for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine after inspecting the camps as soon as the bombing stopped.
The next day, the PLO news agency Wafa said 800 buildings had been destroyed or seriously damaged in that day's air strikes. Wafa said 600 of those 800 buildings were in the camps. But several days later, Mr. Defrates said a ''very preliminary'' UNRWA survey showed 700 of the 1,500 family dwellings in the Borj el Barajneh camp had been badly damaged or destroyed. Shatila camp was nearly as bad, he said.
''There were more casualties and more homeless on the edges (of the camps) because there are more multistory buildings hit there,'' Mr. Defrates said.
Years ago, the PLO took over maintenance of the camps, providing what the Lebanese government hadn't provided - water, electricity, garbage collection, sewage systems, and the like.
Equally, it was the PLO that paid both Lebanese and Palestinian civilians for materials and helped in rebuilding after Israel's one bombing raid on the capital in 1981.
Now there are thousands sleeping in the streets, parks, corridors of office buildings, and other people's homes within Beirut.
The PLO said it had a committee working on these social problems. But already much of the PLO leadership has left for Tunisia.