US embassy cable - 85BEIRUT4372

SIDON: ANOTHER "WAR OF THE CAMPS" IN THE OFFING?

Identifier: 85BEIRUT4372
Wikileaks: View 85BEIRUT4372 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Beirut
Created: 1985-07-25 13:13:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL KPAL SY LE
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 251313Z JUL 85
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4143
INFO AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 04372 
 
E.O. 12356:  DECL:  OADR 
TAGS:  PGOV, PREL, KPAL, SY, LE 
SUBJECT:  SIDON:  ANOTHER "WAR OF THE CAMPS" IN THE OFFING? 
 
REF:  DAMASCUS 4580 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION.  SIX WEEKS AFTER 
ISRAEL ANNOUNCED THE COMPLETION OF ITS MILITARY 
WITHDRAWAL FROM SOUTH LEBANON, THAT REGION 
REMAINS TENSE AND UNSETTLED.  ALTHOUGH RELIABLE, 
FIRST-HAND REPORTS ARE SPARSE, IT SEEMS CLEAR THAT 
POTENTIALLY EXPLOSIVE SITUATIONS CONTINUE TO 
PREVAIL IN SIDON AND JAZZIN.  TROUBLES LINGER 
ALONG THE BORDER STRIP BUT APPEAR TO HAVE 
DIMINISHED. 
 
3.  IN SIDON, INCREASED FEARS OF AN OPEN CONFLICT 
INVOLVING PRO-ARAFAT PALESTINIANS, THE PNSF, AMAL, 
LOCAL MUSLIM MILITIAS, AND PERHAPS THE PSP HAVE 
LED TO SYRIAN-SPONSORED EFFORTS TO HEAD OFF ANY 
SUCH SHOWDOWN AND TO AVERT ANOTHER "WAR OF THE 
CAMPS."    MEANWHILE, SYRIA IS REPORTEDLY 
BOLSTERING THE AMAL MILITIA WITH ADDITIONAL 
EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING, PROBABLY BECAUSE OF DOUBTS 
ABOUT THE STEADFASTNESS OF ITS OTHER ALLIES. 
END SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION. 
 
4.  THE LOCAL PRESS AND MOST OF OUR LEBANESE 
POLITICAL CONTACTS ARE REPLETE WITH STORIES THAT 
TENSIONS ARE ESCALATING IN SIDON.  THESE STORIES 
ARISE, IN PART, FROM REPORTS THAT PLO LEADER 
ARAFAT IS REINFORCING HIS LOYALISTS IN THE THE AYN 
AL-HILWAH AND MIYAH MIYAH REFUGEE CAMPS AND IN 
SIDON PROPER WITH ADDITIONAL MEN AND MATERIEL. 
ALTHOUGH WE CANNOT CONFIRM OR QUANTIFY THESE 
REINFORCEMENTS, THE LEADERS OF SIDON ARE, WE HEAR, 
EXTREMELY EDGY" ABOUT THE ESCALATING TENSIONS 
THERE AND THE PROSPECTS FOR A FLARE-UP SIMILAR TO 
THE "WAR OF THE CAMPS" IN BEIRUT. 
 
5.  ACCORDING TO LOCAL PRESS REPORTS, IN EARLY 
JULY, SYRIAN TROOPS IN EASTERN LEBANON FORCED THE 
PRO-ARAFAT "BADR BATTALION" OF THE PALESTINIAN 
LIBERATION ARMY OUT OF THE BIQA', WHERE IT HAD 
BEEN SINCE 1982, AND BACK TO JORDAN.  THE PRESS 
ALSO CITED REPORTS FROM CAIRO THAT ARAFAT HAD 
PERSUADED THE GOE TO ALLOW HIM TO TRANSFER A PLA 
UNIT, THE AYN JALUT BRIGADE, FROM EGYPT TO SOUTH 
LEBANON.  ON JULY 18, MUSTAFA SA'AD'S "POPULAR 
NASSERITE ORGANIZATION" CLAIMED TO HAVE 
INTERCEPTED TWO SHIPMENTS OF ARMS DESTINED FOR THE 
CAMPS AND TO HAVE CAPTURED THE SMUGGLERS, WHO WERE 
IDENTIFIED AS FOUR PRO-ARAFAT PALESTINIANS BEARING 
JORDANIAN PASSPORTS.  IN A "RADIO MONTE CARLO" 
INTERVIEW, SIDON MP NAZIH BIZRI SAID THE TWO 
CONTAINERS OF ARMS HAD BEEN SENT FROM JORDAN VIA 
THE NORTHERN LEBANESE PORT OF TRIPOLI.  MOST 
RECENTLY, ON JULY 23, AN ISRAELI NAVAL VESSEL 
FIRED ON AND SET ABLAZE A HONDURAN-REGISTERED 
FREIGHTER IN SIDON HARBOR.  ALTHOUGH RELIABLE 
DETAILS ARE SPARSE, THE CARGO VESSEL WAS EVIDENTLY 
SUSPECTED OF CARRYING ARMS; ITS MOVEMENTS WERE 
DESCRIBED BY ISRAELI RADIO AS "SUSPICIOUS." 
 
6.  ON THE GROUND, THE RECENT ESCALATION OF 
TENSIONS IN SIDON HAS SO FAR BEEN CHARACTERIZED BY 
STILL RELATIVELY MINOR SHIA VS. PALESTINIAN 
CLASHES.  (WE HAVE SEEN NO RECENT REPORTS OF 
SIGNIFICANT CLASHES BETWEEN LEBANESE SHIA AND 
SUNNI IN SIDON, THOUGH ANIMOSITIES BETWEEN THEM 
RUN HIGH.)  AMAL AND PNSF FIGHTERS CLASHED BRIEFLY 
ON JULY 15 WHEN THE LATTER ATTEMPTED TO REOCCUPY 
PREVIOUSLY EVACUATED POSITIONS NEAR AYN AL-HILWAH 
CAMP.  OTHER AMAL-PALESTINIAN CLASHES OCCURRED THE 
SAME DAY NEAR BA'LABAKK AND ON JULY 21 AT THE BURJ 
AL-BURAJINAH CAMP IN BEIRUT.  ON THE NIGHT OF JULY 
22-23, SHIITE-PALESTINIAN TENSIONS ALSO SURFACED 
IN TYRE, WHERE AMAL FORCES ENCIRCLED BASS REFUGEE 
CAMP, FOLLOWING THE SHOOTING OF AN AMAL MILITIAMAN. 
 
7.  FACED WITH PERSISTENT SHIITE-PALESTINIAN AND 
BROADER SHIITE-SUNNI TENSIONS IN VARIOUS AREAS OF 
LEBANON, SYRIA APPEARS TO BE GOING TO CONSIDERABLE 
LENGTHS TO PUSH ITS ALLIES --- BOTH LEBANESE AND 
PALESTINIAN --- TO AVERT A REPETITION IN SIDON OF 
A BEIRUT-STYLE "WAR OF THE CAMPS." 
 
8.  FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE FINAL COMMUNIQUE OF THE 
SYRIAN-SPONSORED CONFERENCE OF JULY 8-9, LEBANESE 
MUSLIM LEADERS DECLARED THEY WOULD NOT TOLERATE 
THE REESTABLISHMENT OF THE PRE-1982 SITUATION IN 
LEBANON, WHEN THE PLO WAS VIRTUALLY A STATE WITHIN 
A STATE.  THEY SPECIFICALLY SAID THEY WOULD NOT 
ALLOW THE "SEDITION" WHICH HAD PREVAILED IN BEIRUT 
AND ITS PALESTINIAN CAMPS TO EXTEND TO SIDON. 
 
9.  IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE DAMASCUS CONFERENCE, 
AND REPORTEDLY WITH SYRIAN VICE PRESIDENT 
KHADDAM'S BACKING, PRO-SYRIAN PARTIES ANNOUNCED A 
PLAN TO FORM A "NATIONAL ALLIANCE FRONT," ONE OF 
WHOSE OBJECTIVES WOULD BE TO AVOID FRICTIONS IN 
SIDON.  THE FRONT WOULD INCLUDE, INTER ALIA, NABIH 
BARRI'S AMAL MOVEMENT, WALID JUMBLATT'S "NATIONAL 
DEMOCRATIC FRONT," AND THE "NATIONAL POLITICAL 
COUNCIL" OF SIDON, WHICH IS CHAIRED BY NAZIH BIZRI 
AND INCLUDES MUSTAFA SA'AD'S "POPULAR NASSERITE 
ORGANIZATION." 
 
10.  CONCOMITANTLY, SYRIA HAS REPORTEDLY BEEN 
TRYING TO ACHIEVE RECONCILIATION BETWEEN THE AMAL 
AND THE PNSF.  ACCORDING TO PRESS REPORTS, KHADDAM 
ARRANGED A MEETING IN DAMASCUS ON JULY 9 BETWEEN 
BARRI AND PNSF LEADERS WHICH JUMBLATT ALSO 
ATTENDED.  ON JULY 12, THE MAIN PRO-SYRIAN GROUPS 
IN SIDON --- AMAL, THE NATIONAL POLITICAL COUNCIL, 
THE POPULAR NASSERITE ORGANIZATION, AND THE 
ISLAMIC SOCIETY --- AND THE PNSF ISSUED A JOINT 
STATEMENT GIVING ARAFAT'S SUPPORTERS IN SIDON ONE 
WEEK TO LEAVE THE CITY.  THE STATEMENT 
SPECIFICALLY BRANDED FOUR INDIVIDUALS AS "SYMBOLS 
OF ARAFAT'S CAPITULATIONIST POLICY":  ABDEL AZIZ 
ABU FADAH, RAJI AL NAJMAH, HUSSEIN AL HAIBI, AND 
MOEMEN. 
 
11. MOST RECENTLY, ON JULY 22-24, SYRIAN VICE 
PRESIDENT KHADDAM HOSTED A LARGE MEETING OF 
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PNSF, THE NATIONAL 
POLITICAL COUNCIL OF SIDON, AMAL, AND THE NATIONAL 
DEMOCRATIC FRONT.  ACCORDING TO BANNER REPORTS IN 
THE BEIRUT PRESS, THIS DAMASCUS MEETING RESULTED 
IN THE APPROVAL OF A PNSF PROPOSAL TO FORM A MIXED 
COMMITTEE TO "REDEFINE ON PAPER" LEBANESE- 
PALESTINIAN RELATIONS.  AS FOR SIDON ITSELF, THE 
CONFEREES ADOPTED A RESOLUTION CALLING FOR (A) THE 
WITHDRAWAL OF ALL ARMED PALESTINIAN ELEMENTS FROM 
THE CITY AND A PROMISE NOT TO ORGANIZE NIGHT 
PATROLS IN THE SUBURBS; (B) THE WITHDRAWAL OF AMAL 
MILITIAMEN FROM THE SECTOR EXTENDING FROM RMAYLAH 
TO THE NORTHERN ENTRANCE OF SIDON; (C) THE NDF TO 
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MAINTAINING ORDER IN THE 
CITY AND CONTROLING ACCESS ROADS, UNDER THE 
SUPERVISION OF THREE SYRIAN ARMY OFFICERS; AND 
(D) A "POLITICAL CONTROL COMMISSION" CHAIRED BY 
KHALID JUMBLATT AND COMPRISING NAZIH BIZRI, ANWAR 
FATAYRI, INAAM RAAD, AND USSAMA SA'AD. 
 
12.  THE MAJOR QUESTION WHICH REMAINS UNANSWERED 
IS WHAT THE LINE-UP WILL BE WHEN AND IF SERIOUS 
FIGHTING ERUPTS IN SIDON.  AS NOTED ABOVE, SYRIA 
IS APPARENTLY PUSHING HARD FOR ITS LEBANESE ALLIES 
--- BE THEY SHIA, SUNNI, OR DRUZE --- AND THE PNSF 
TO STAND FIRM AGAINST THE PRO-ARAFAT PALETINIANS. 
WE AND MANY OBSERVERS HERE, HOWEVER, BELIEVE THAT 
FIGHTING WOULD MOST LIKELY ERUPT BETWEEN AMAL AND 
THE ARAFATISTS AND THAT THE PNSF FORCES WOULD 
QUICKLY JOIN IN SUPPORT OF THEIR PALESTINIAN 
BRETHREN AGAINST THE LEBANESE SHIA.  THIS SCENARIO 
WOULD MIRROR THAT OF THE "WAR OF THE CAMPS" IN 
BEIRUT IN WHICH PRO AND ANTI-ARAFATISTS COMBINED 
FORCES AGAINST THE SHIA. 
 
13.  THE ROLE OF THE SIDONESE SUNNI MILITIAS IS 
LESS PREDICTABLE.  WOULD THEY FIGHT AS LEBANESE, 
I.E., WITH THE SHIA AGAINST THE PALESTINIANS? 
WOULD THEY FIGHT AS SUNNI, I.E., WITH THE 
PALESTINIANS AGAINST THE SHIA?  OR WOULD THEY TRY 
TO REMAIN NEUTRAL?  WE AGREE WITH REFTEL THAT, FOR 
NOW, BIZRI AND SA'AD HAVE PERHAPS SEIZED UPON AN 
ANTI-ARAFATIST STANCE AS A LOW-COST WAY TO PLEASE 
THE SYRIANS.  ONCE FIGHTING BEGINS, HOWEVER, WE 
ARE FAR FROM CERTAIN THAT THE SUNNI WILL CONTINUE 
THIS LINE.  SHIITE-SUNNI TENSIONS IN SIDON, AS IN 
WEST BEIRUT, RUN HIGH, AND WE RECALL THAT DURING 
THE "WAR OF THE CAMPS" THE REMNANTS OF THE SUNNI 
MURABITUN MILITIA JOINED WITH THE PALESTINIANS TO 
MAKE NIGHTTIME RAIDS ON AMAL AND PREDOMINANTLY 
SHIITE LAF 6TH BRIGADE POSITIONS. 
 
14.  THE PSP REMAINS ANOTHER WILD CARD.  AS THE 
"WAR OF THE CAMPS" IN BEIRUT PROCEEDED, THE 
DRUZE-SHIA ALLIANCE BECAME INCREASINGLY STRAINED, 
AND, AS FIGHTING IN WEST BEIRUT EARLIER THIS MONTH 
DEMONSTRATED, TENSION BETWEEN AMAL AND THE PSP 
CONTINUES TO RUN VERY HIGH.  AN ADDITIONAL 
COMPLICATING FACTOR IS THAT ABOUT TWO THOUSAND 
SUNNI MILITIAMEN HAVE REPORTEDLY JOINED THE PSP 
SINCE THE DEFEAT OF THE MURABITUN MILITIA IN APRIL. 
 
15.  FACED WITH THE PROSPECT THAT THE SUPPOSEDLY 
PRO-SYRIAN PNSF, POPULAR NASSERITE ORGANIZATION, 
AND PSP MAY, IN FACT, SIDE WITH THE PRO-ARAFAT 
PALESTINIANS OR AT LEAST AGAINST AMAL, SYRIA HAS 
REPORTEDLY BEGUN TO REINFORCE THE AMAL MILITIA 
WITH ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING (SEE DATT 
SEPTEL).  DURING THE APRIL 16-17 "BATTLE OF 
BEIRUT" AND THEN THE "WAR OF THE CAMPS," THE AMAL 
MILITIA'S WEAKNESSES AND LIMITATIONS WERE 
EXPOSED.  SYRIA IS NOW APPARENTLY TRYING TO 
BOLSTER THE STRENGTH OF ITS MOST RELIABLE ALLY. 
 
 
LYNE 

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