Lebanese Reunite After Green Line Comes Down
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Nicolas and I fell into each others’ arms when we met for the first time in 11 years. ″Thank God I survived to see you alive,″he said.
Nicolas, a 52-year-old telecommunications employee, and I have been friends for 22 years. We last saw each other in 1979, when he was no longer able to cross from Christian east Beirut to the telecommunications authority in Moslem west Beirut because of fighting.
I ventured into east Beirut to find my old pal. When Nicolas recognized me, he knelt down and kissed the ground in a traditional gesture of thanks.
Then he hugged me, choking back sobs, saying: ″I want to be sure you are not a dream.″
He introduced me to his wife, Mary, their two daughters and their son, telling them: ″I want you to meet my Moslem brother.″
We talked for an hour about the old days, recalling the girlfriends we had before we got married. And we talked about the future.
″When we knew each other it made no difference whether you were Moslem and I was Christian,″ Sayegh said. ″Do you think these barriers that have separated the Lebanese for 15 years will ever be removed?″
Our reunion was a scene that has been repeated hundreds of times in the two weeks since President Elias Hrawi’s government began tearing down the Green Line, the five-mile wall of fortifications that has divided Beirut during 15 years of civil war.
Many Moslem parents are taking their children on tours of the Christian hinterland north of the capital, a part of Lebanon the war generation youngsters have never seen.
The Green Line, the most potent symbol of Lebanon’s sectarian divisions, started coming down after Syrian troops backing Hrawi crushed rebel Christian Gen. Michel Aoun to end an 11-month mutiny against the government.
In eight hours of fighting on Oct. 13, more than 750 people were killed. It was the fiercest battle since the war began in April 1975.
Hrawi is struggling to implement an Arab League-brokered peace plan. He has already secured the agreement of the main Christian and Moslem militias to pull out of Beirut and create a military-free zone.
Under the peace plan, the Maronites, the main Christian sect which has dominated politics since independence from France in 1943, will surrender many privileges and share power equally with the Moslem majority.
Hrawi’s next move will be to disband the militias and absorb some of their fighters into a reconstituted national army, which years ago fractured along sectarian lines.
That will be easier said than done. Sectarian rivalries remain deep-rooted. Already, Druse Moslem warlord Walid Jumblatt is trading insults with Christian chieftain Samir Geagea.
Jumblatt, whose 200,000-strong community is one of the smallest and therefore vulnerable sects, is also highly critical of the peace plan.
Despite Hrawi’s advances and the initial euphoria of seeing the Green Line fall, the Lebanese have been down this road before. They have seen peace efforts collapse in bloodletting.
Many Maronites, longtime enemies of Syria, resent the Syrians’ return to east Beirut.
″We want the Lebanese army to extend their authority over the whole of Lebanon,″ said Christian saleswoman Nancy Khoury. ″We don’t want the Syrians.″
Aoun’s loyalists fear reprisals by Geagea’s rapacious militiamen, who fought the general’s forces earlier this year.
″Who’s going to protect us against Geagea?″ asked Aoun supporter Raffoul Tayan. ″To the Syrians, we and Geagea’s men are enemies. They won’t mind seeing both of us get slaughtered.
″I don’t feel safe at all,″ said Tayan, 25, a mechanic at a garage in Hazmiyeh, east of Beirut.
Marlene Taber, a Christian housewife, compared the situation in Aoun’s former enclave to what happened when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.
″When the Israelis came, our Christian militiamen entered Moslem areas behind them and behaved like conquerers,″ she said.
″The Moslems didn’t take it for long. They fought back and peace collapsed,″ Mrs. Taber said. ″Now pro-Syrian militias who entered our areas are behaving like conquerers. This can’t last for long. Someone will fight back.″
But many Lebanese are daring to hope that this time it will be different. They believe that with the Lebanese army strengthened and the Syrians apparently determined to enforce peace, it could just work.
In Syrian-policed Moslem west Beirut and much of the Christian enclave, life is as normal as it has ever been in the last 15 years.
The value of the Lebanese pound, usually a reliable barometer of confidence, has recovered nearly 50 percent since Aoun’s defeat.
The currency, which was at 1,200 to the dollar when Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, closed at 720 to the dollar on Beirut’s money market late last week.
Restaurants, casinos, night clubs and entertainment centers are packed with Lebanese, who have learned to enjoy themselves while they can.
Electricity for most of Beirut, which was cut off for nearly two months, is back three hours a day and government officials hope to soon restore it completely. City water supplies are trickling back.
People who once lived near the Green Line are returning to their homes - or what’s left of them.
″My house is in ruins. But truly, I’m very happy the war is over,″ said auto dealer Samir Tabish as he cleaned debris from the apartment in the Moslem Ras el-Nabeh district that he fled 13 years ago.
″We’re dying to move back. But the repairs will cost $15,000 and we don’t have that kind of money,″ he said.