Shelling Kills 22, Wounds 140 in Beirut
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ The deadly, daily rain of shells and rockets that has made Beirut a wasteland of fear killed at least 22 people Thursday and wounded 140.
Shells hit the hilltop residence of U.S. Ambassador John McCarthy in Yarze, a Christian suburb, and the mansion of French Ambassador Rene Ala in nearby Hazmieh, police reported. The Soviet cultural center in Moslem west Beirut also was hit, police said.
Police said the duels between Syrian gunners and the Christian army units of Gen. Michel Aoun began at 11 a.m. The day’s casualties raised the toll to 571 dead and 1,462 wounded, by police count, since the artillery war began March 8.
A police spokesman said the Syrians shelled the shattered presidential palace in the eastern Baabda suburb with 240mm mortars.
The spokesman said the mortars were deployed in wooded mountains southeast of the capital held by Syria’s Druse militia allies. He said no casualties were reported at the palace.
Aoun’s men, deployed in the 310-square-mile Christian-held region north and east of Beirut, shelled Syrian army outposts and Moslem residential districts, said the police spokesman, whose name was withheld in keeping with regulations.
Syria has 40,000 soldiers in Lebanon under an Arab League mandate issued in 1976, a year after the beginning of Lebanon’s sectarian civil war, in which more than 150,000 people have been killed. Aoun calls the Syrians an occupation force and has declared a ″war of liberation″ to drive them out.
Most of the shells fired by the Christians fell on Moslem west Beirut, the predominantly Shiite Moslem southern slums, the southeastern mountains and the central Bekaa Valley, where the main Syrian supply lines run.
Syrian gunners ″retaliated fiercely″ to shelling of their supply lines by firing on Christian districts from 32 howitzer and mortar emplacements on the enclave’s southern and eastern flanks, the police spokesman said.
He said the Syrians also used truck-mounted rocket launchers that spit 40 rockets from multiple barrels in less than a minute.
Lebanese reporter Bahjat Jaber said rocket salvos hit the Christian-held coast north of Beirut and nearby wooded mountains, starting several fires.
″Hundreds of rockets are exploding in the sea, along the sand beach and on the slopes,″ Jaber reported by telephone from Jounieh, a port 12 miles north of Beirut.
Beirut was a cacophony of shell exlosions, whooshing rockets and ambulance sirens for much of the day, with the Christians and Syrians trading fire at 40 rounds a minute.
Police said Syrians and Christians also fought with machine guns, rocket- propelled grenades and recoilless cannons across Beirut’s sectarian dividing line and on a front between Druse and Christian mountain towns southeast of the city.
Fighting on the dividing line closed the museum crossing, the only gateway between Christian east Beirut and the Moslem western sector, the police spokesman said.
Rooftop snipers raked both sides of the line, trying to block evacuation of casualties.
Moslem and Christian radio stations interrupted regular programming with reports of the fighting, and advised civilians to seek cover.
Motorists, pedestrians and shoppers deserted west Beirut’s Hamra commercial thoroughfare. Women carrying bags stuffed with vegetables, bread and bottled water ran for shelter across the avenue.
″I shouldn’t have left home in the first place,″ a woman said as she dashed into the entrance of a residential building near the damaged Commodore Hotel, now a Syrian army outpost.
″Do you have a bomb shelter?″ she asked the janitor. ″Yes,″ he replied, but the woman left after seeing a helmeted Syrian soldier standing guard at the hotel.
″She realized that we might get shelled because the Syrians are our neighbors,″ the janitor said.