Druze leader rules out dialogue with Lebanese government
Lebanese President Amin Gemayel's invitation to both Christian rightists and Muslim leftists for a dialogue of national unity is already in trouble. The trouble comes less than 24 hours after he succumbed to mounting pressures to address the issue of reconciliation among Lebanon's religious sects.
Of the 11 leaders invited to participate in the dialogue, one key figure quickly rejected the offer by the Christian-dominated government, and other Muslim leaders criticized the proposal to end the violence.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who is also Lebanon's leading leftist, said in a statement out of Damascus, Syria, that such a dialogue was ''out of the question'' because of the Army's action in west Beirut over the previous four days. He compared the military sweep of the Muslim-dominated half of the capital - designed to flush out militiamen - to the massacre of Palestinian civilians in Sabra and Shatila last year.
Mr. Jumblatt is critical of any reconciliation effort, not because of the numerical strength of his Druze sect, which is the smallest of the three Muslim branches, but because he has become the main spokesman in the recent phase of a decades-long campaign to win changes in Lebanon's power structure.
A statement from the Damascus office of Amal, the Shiite organization, appealed to Arab states to intervene to prevent further killing and persecution of Muslims in Lebanon. This reflects the angry reaction to the extent of the Army action.
Although some Muslim leaders had agreed to the military thrust Wednesday into west Beirut, many were stunned by the level of force used in the street battles. The Army did manage to regain all strategic points in west Beirut, leaving only isolated pockets of resistance.
The Americans had high praise for the Army, and they rated the operations in west Beirut over the four days a major success. But other Western military analysts pointed out that it took 13,000 men on Sunday and Monday and 10,000 troops during the Wednesday operation to face down what could have been no more than a small fraction of all the militiamen in the country. The militiamen were equipped with rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades. They faced tanks and artillery.
The Army now numbers fewer than 35,000, and any operation in the mountainous Shouf region in the near future could once again divert their attention from west Beirut, since they do not have the men at full strength yet to handle such a large area of potential violence.
Short term, the Army did manage to cut the militias down to size. But long term, there are fears that the action may backfire, with a subsequent increase in Muslim resentment of action by the Christian-led Army against Muslims.
There are also some suspicions emerging that the government plans to continue to rely on military muscle in confronting opposition. The next area of operations is likely to be the volatile Shouf mountains when the Israelis withdraw. The withdrawal is expected next week. The Druze militia in the Shouf is still threatening to fight the Army if it deploys before reconciliation, and it would appear doubtful now that anything can happen that quickly on the political front after years of dispute.
Yet American officials remain optimistic. Interviewed after Mr. Gemayel's announcement Wednesday, they said there was an acknowledgement on the part of the Lebanese government that the offer of reconciliation perhaps could have come sooner. But, they added, now that the invitation has been extended, there is a sincere commitment that it should not be just a dialogue of good faith but one of equity.
The Americans clearly hope the dialogue, if it ever gets off the ground, will lead to a national unity government, including both Christian rightists and Muslim leftists.
Although Mr. Jumblatt and others apparently agreed in principle to such a government, during recent talks with US and Lebanese officials there were conditions attached concerning simultaneous agreement by the government to eventual revisions in the ''National Covenant.''
Muslims fear that without an advance agreement, they will be used. The danger for them politically is that if they join now and find that there will not be sufficient changes, they will be blamed for a breakdown if they feel compelled to walk out.
The Americans also laid much of the blame for the crisis in west Beirut on ''subversive external elements'' and aggravating additional ''fire from the east ,'' codewords for Syria - a neighboring state that has supported the Muslim leftists.
Although there is widespread evidence to indicate the Syrian forces based in Lebanon did get involved in the shelling Wednesday, there is stronger evidence to indicate that tension was already so high among rival sects that any spark or provocation would have ignited the subsequent fighting.