Tripoli War Dossier

Analysis / Interpretation / Press

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, Special to the New York Times
Published: November 27, 1983
TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Nov. 26— Palestinian rebels opposed to the leadership of Yasir Arafat postponed a threatened assault on this city today to allow time for a Syrian-Saudi peace plan to be put into place. 
A cease-fire held relatively firm, with only minor exchanges of sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades. 
However, only a day after all sides had approved the Syrian-Saudi plan, prospects for quick installation of the agreement appeared to be fading. 
Defining 'Environs' 
The plan calls for all fighters to vacate Tripoli and ''its environs'' within two weeks and for political talks to resolve the split within the Palestinian guerrilla movement, specifically within the Palestine Liberation Organization that Mr. Arafat heads as chairman. 
Najeh Yaacub, a spokesman for the Syrian-backed dissident leader Ahmed Jibril, said in an interview today that the rebels would ''never withdraw'' from the Beddawi and Nahr al Bared refugee camps, which they seized from Arafat loyalists in the last three weeks of fighting and which they consider to be outside the ''environs'' of Tripoli. 
The Syrian-Saudi plan left it unclear whether the rebels would be required to pull out from these traditionally pro- Arafat strongholds. If Mr. Arafat were to be required to leave Tripoli with the rebels still in charge of the camps, it would be a substantial victory for them. 
Mr. Yaacub, who spoke to reporters from the Beddawi office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine- General Command, said the rebels had decided ''not to carry out'' their ultimatum of four days ago to storm Tripoli if Mr. Arafat had not left by today. He said the rebels wanted to give the Tripoli leaders time to work out the details for Mr. Arafat's withdrawal. 
According to the plan, the Higher Coordination Committee of Tripoli, made up of the city's leading politicians and led by former Prime Minister Rashid Karami, is to meet with both pro- and anti-Arafat forces in the next day or two to establish the ground rules for their withdrawal. The specifics of the withdrawal were not spelled out in the very general accord arranged by Syria and Saudi Arabia. 
Mr. Arafat, for his part, declined to say at his daily news conference today whether he intended to leave Lebanon. He too noted that the Syrian-Saudi plan was vague and that it applied only ''to Tripoli'' - leaving open the possibility that he and his men may demand to be allowed to return to the now rebel-occupied refugee camps.
An Angry Response 
Moreover, when Mr. Arafat was asked whether he would enter into talks with the rebels, as the plan stipulated, he responded angrily: ''I will not give them the honor of making a reply to that question.'' 
It will probably be quite difficult for the Tripoli Higher Coordination Committee, which itself is divided into pro- and anti-Arafat factions and has no military power, to bring the two sides together on a detailed plan for evacuation. 
Mr. Arafat clearly does not put much stock in the committee, since he asked again today that a team of Arab League observers be dispatched to Tripoli to oversee installation of the agreement.
Concern for Personal Safety 
Mr. Arafat is obviously concerned about his personal safety. In an interview published in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, he said he was now the ''target'' of an assassination squad sent to Tripoli by unnamed powers to kill him. He said that several of the would-be assassins had been picked up by his men, but that several others remained at large. 
Several Arafat aides conceded privately that the P.L.O. chairman would not mind seeing the Tripoli situation dragged out for a few more weeks to see what happens to President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, who had been reported hospitalized about two weeks ago for an appendectomy. 
Mr. Arafat has long believed that the only way the P.L.O. split will be healed is if there is a change of regime in Syria, to one more sympathetic to Mr. Arafat's continued leadership of the P.L.O. Mr. Assad has had a running feud with Mr. Arafat because of Mr. Arafat's constant efforts to keep the Palestinian guerrilla movement independent of Syrian influence.
Speculation on Illness 
Many Lebanese officials and Western diplomats now believe that Mr. Assad's illness involves something more than his appendix. However, the exact nature of his medical problems remains unknown. The most prevalent rumor in Beirut is that the Syrian President is suffering from a heart disorder. 
The Christian Phalangist radio, which is virulently anti-Syrian, said today that Mr. Assad was seriously ill and that the Syrians were preparing to take him to France or the United States for treatment. There was no independent confirmation of this report. 
Phalangist radio also reported that the chief Syrian intelligence officer for north Lebanon was recalled to Damascus on Friday for a meeting with the army chief of staff and other intelligence officers. The meeting, it said, was to consider the Tripoli situation in light of Mr. Assad's deteriorating health.