It was the second time in 16 months that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat sailed out of Lebanon into forced exile. And last week, as he left the port of Tripoli, his goal of establishing a Palestinian homeland in the Middle East seemed more elusive than ever. Vainly flashing a V-for-victory sign, Arafat boarded the Greek ferry Odysseus Elytis, escorted by two French warships, the aircraft carrier Clemenceau and the destroyer Armand. A total of five Greek vessels took 4,000 PLO guerrillas to Tunisia, North Yemen, Algeria, Sudan and Iraq. As they left, crowds of Lebanese Moslem allies paid tribute with a barrage of automatic rifle fire and rocketpropelled grenades. Overhead, Israeli Mirage jets streaked across the sky in warning runs, and Israeli gunboats hovered offshore, out of sight. Said a smiling Arafat: “The struggle is not over; we will continue until we reach Jerusalem, the capital of our Palestinian state.” Still, the evacuation contrasted sharply with the tumultuous sendoff that Arafat received in August, 1982, when he left Israeli-occupied Beirut with 11,000 guerrillas under the protec-
tion of a 4,000-member peacekeeping force from the United States, Britain, France and Italy. Last week the Israelis harried Arafat until the final moment—with six gunboat attacks on Tripoli in the 10 days prior to departure— and only a strongly worded message
from the United States to the Israelis ensured Arafat’s guerrillas safe passage.
The PLO leader’s departure brought a welcome calm to Tripoli, where six weeks of intense fighting have taken roughly 750 lives and wounded 3,000 people. But elsewhere in Lebanon, tension remained high. U.S. naval vessels went into action against Syrian-held positions near Beirut, and the Israeli air force struck at a Shi’ite militia camp base in the Syrian-held town of Baalbek. Then, two I separate bombings in I Beirut killed at least 15 x people and injured 30 others. A pickup truck
0 packed with explosives
1 blew up outside the main > base of the French contingent to the multina-
tional force and a bomb
wrecked the ground floor of the Marble Tower Hotel. The bombings came 10 days after six similar attacks in Kuwait on Dec. 12. Authorities in the Gulf state last week arrested 10 people and tightened entry procedures for foreigners.
Last week’s Beirut attacks raised new doubts about the value of the peacekeeping force in the capitals of its sponsoring nations. Italian Defence Minister Giovanni Spadolini said that his government will scale down its 2,100man contingent in Lebanon but gave no date or indication of how many men will withdraw. In Washington, President Ronald Reagan announced that U.S. marines would move in behind Lebanese President Amin Gemayel’s beleaguered army when it finally moves out of Beirut to expand its base in the warravaged country. Reagan said that the Marines would remain on station because the Middle East “is the one place that could start a war that no one wanted.” But the House armed services subcommittee released a report that criticized the entire U.S. military chain of command for lax security and inadequate intelligence-gathering in the truck-bomb deaths of 241 marines in Beirut last October. The report blamed the U.S. administration for placing the
Marines in a “deployment where protection was inevitably inadequate” and said that the marine commander, Col. Timothy Geraghty, was guilty of serious errors in judgment for failing to provide better troop protection. The subcommittee adopted the report, which also indicted Geraghty’s superiors, by a 9 to 3 vote.
Still, at week’s end the future of Arafat and the PLO was the chief topic of speculation about the Middle East. In Damascus four Palestinian groups called for an urgent meeting to discuss Palestinian unity after rebel PLO leaders demanded Arafat’s immediate resignation as PLO chairman. Indeed, Arafat’s evacuation has raised serious doubts about his ability to continue in the post. His departure came just one day before a deadline imposed by Syrian-backed PLO rebels, who had driven Arafat’s soldiers from the neighboring bases of Nahr-el Bared and Baddawi and held them under siege in Tripoli for six weeks. Said one Arab political analyst: “Arafat has been cut off from the main fighting force of the guerrillas. He is also away from any front near Palestine. It is virtual exile.” For all that, Arafat continues to enjoy widespread backing within the PLO, from most Palestinians and from about 100 governments around the world. They include most Arab governments— with the important exceptions of Libya and Syria—as well as West European and Eastern Bloc nations. They consider Arafat’s PLO to be the sole legitimate representative of four million Palestinians around the world. Indeed, moderate Arab leaders recognize that the very existence of the PLO is threatened by the challenge to Arafat’s leadership. Unless the warring factions reconcile their differences, said Palestinian National Council Chairman Khaled Fahum, “There will be two PLOs, and two PLOs mean there will be no PLO.” Arafat has already discussed the possibility of calling an expanded meeting of the national council, which would include Palestinians from Israeli-occupied territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip—where his support has been traditionally strong. As well, he has hinted that he may return to Jordan to continue talks on a Palestinian settlement with King Hussein. At the last national council meeting at its Damascus headquarters last February, Arafat declared: “I say to you without shame that if the Damascus government threw me out the door, I would come back through the window. If the window were locked, I would dig a tunnel to get back into the country.” His return may be more difficult than even he foresaw.
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