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Starving Palestinians in Besieged Camps Said to Eat Rats

February 10, 1987

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Palestinians in besieged refugee camps have begun feeding rats to their hungry children, and guerrillas may try to blast their way out soon to get food, Palestinian sources said Tuesday.

Police said five people were killed and 21 wounded in mortar and grenade battles at the Chatilla and Bourj el-Barajneh camps on Beirut’s southern flank, which have been surrounded by units of the Shiite militia Amal for three months.

The police casualty count now stands at 554 killed and 1,463 wounded since the latest battles at the camps in Beirut and in southern Lebanon began in November. The Shiite-Palestinian battle has raged intermittently since May 1985, with thousands of casualties.

″Children caught and ate rats in Bourj el-Barajneh today. Don’t be surprised. They did. Mothers boil the rats and children eat them,″ said a Palestinian source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, a Palestine Liberation Organization spokesman said: ″Our people in Bourj el-Barajneh have already eaten all the cats and dogs they had. Nothing is left to eat.″

Reporters cannot get into the camps and there was no way to verify the report independently.

Amal announced it would allow a relief convoy of food and medical supplies into Bourj el-Barajneh on Wednesday. ″This decision was taken out of humanitarian and social considerations for Bourj el-Barajneh’s inhabitants,″ Amal said in a statement.

The shantytown, where 35,000 Palestinians live in the midst of Shiite slums, has been cut off from outside food supplies since the siege began.

PLO officials have asked Sunni Moslem religious leaders in Lebanon to make a religious ruling that would allow the Palestinians, most of whom are Sunnis, to eat the flesh of people killed in the battles.

Senior Sunni leaders empowered to make such a decision told The Associated Press they had not yet responded.

Lebanon’s best-known Shiite cleric, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, insisted that ″the situation in the camps has not reached that dimension.″

″Legally, a fatwa (religious ruling) to allow people to eat human flesh is only tolerated when all kinds of other food cease to exist,″ he said. ″It is in this case only that eating the flesh of the dead becomes permissible.″

A statement from PLO chief Yasser Arafat’s mainstream Fatah guerrilla faction said there was ″a serious threat of epidemics in Bourj el-Barajneh as a result of the blockade.″

Amal is backed by Syria, the chief Soviet ally in the Middle East. The militia’s objectve in the ″camps war″ is to keep Arafat from regaining the Lebanese base he lost in the 1982 Israeli invasion.

U.N. and Palestinian sources estimate about 3,500 PLO guerrillas have filtered back into Beirut and southern Lebanon in the last two years.

Earlier PLO statements said ″a real hunger crisis″ faced the refugee camps. That prompted King Hassan II of Morocco to announce Monday that an aircraft had been readied to parachute food and medical supplies to the besieged Palestinians.

He asked permission for the operation from Lebanon’s Christian president, Amin Gemayel, and Nabih Berri, who is Lebanon’s justice minister and also commands the Amal militia.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA said Arafat sent an urgent message Tuesday to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the second in three days, requesting his intervention to save lives in the camps.

Arafat also has asked for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

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