He was known to his Lebanese Christian followers as “Sheik Pierre,” a legendary and highly influential politician whose career spanned four decades. And when Pierre Gemayel, 78, died of a heart attack last week, Lebanon’s 1.5 million Christians joined in mourning the loss. Gemayel, the founder of the Lebanese Christian Phalangist party, was also the father of current Lebanese President Amin Gemayel. But it was Pierre Gemayel who was regarded as the nation’s most powerful Christian politician. Last spring he was instrumental in securing the reluctant support of Christian militiamen to a multifactional government of national unity. Analysts declared that Gemayel’s death could have a destabilizing effect on what Beirut’s daily L'Orient-Le Jour last week described as Lebanon’s “powder keg.”
At the same time, other events also caused concern in the divided nation. In the Syrian-controlled Beka’a Valley two Israeli bombers struck a reputed base for Palestinian guerrillas in the town of Mejdel Anjar. In all, 25 people were killed in the raid, and another 75 were declared missing. The aerial attack followed by hours an assault on three Israeli soldiers by Moslem gunmen in Israeli-occupied southern Lebanon. Since the spring of this year about 20 Israeli soldiers have been killed. Palestinian guerrillas pledged retaliation for last week’s attack, but Syria still remained silent. Arab and Western diplomats have said that neither country, Syria nor Israel, wants a full-fledged confron-
tation on Lebanese soil, at least in the short term.
At the same time, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt continued a personal campaign to distance himself from the multifactional government of national unity, in which he holds the post of cabinet minister. Jumblatt has demanded greater Moslem representation in government in return for allowing the governmentcontrolled Lebanese Army to enter Druze strongholds in the Chouf Mountains. The army has gained tenuous control over East and West Beirut, but it has been unable to extend its authority beyond the city limits.
Jumblatt’s defiance of the army is a departure from his previous pledges to support a Syrian-backed security plan for the country. Indeed, at the funeral of the Lebanese Army’s chief of staff and fellow Druze, Brig.-Gen. Nadim Hakim, who was killed Aug. 23 in a helicopter crash, Jumblatt branded President Gemayel “a butcher” and he claimed that Hakim had been assassinated. As well, the Druze leader’s relations with the Shi’ite Moslem faction are deteriorating. And Druze and Shi’ite gunmen have fought sporadic battles at night in Beirut streets. Analysts now suggest that a military confrontation between Druze militiamen and the Shi’ites’ Amal militia seems more likely than a clash between Druze and Christians. As members of each of Lebanon’s major factions mourned their dead, last week’s funerals seemed like an early warning of a new round of intercommunal hostility.
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