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Rival Shiite Moslem militiamen fought for a hilltop village...

By NADIM LADKI

KFAR FILA, Lebanon -- Rival Shiite Moslem militiamen fought for a hilltop village outside Beirut with artillery and rocket fire in a resumption of combat as the death toll from recent violence rose to 115.

The fifth day of fighting between Amal and Hezbollah militiamen underscored the inability of Syria and Iran to find a political compromise that would end their local allies' bloody power struggle.

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Elsewhere in southern Lebanon, Israeli jets bombed bases of the Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal outside the port city of Sidon for the second time in 24 hours.

Police said Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters repulsed pro-Syrian Amal militiamen in a prolonged battle for control of Jabaa, a village 28 miles south of the capital. Hezbollah forces captured Jabaa and three nearby settlements in a surprise attack Sunday.

Amal fighters backed by rockets and artillery tried unsuccessfully to pierce Hezbollah defenses around Jabaa.

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A Hezbollah spokesman said the fundamentalist Moslem fighters repulsed the Amal offensive, 'inflicting many casualties among the attackers.'

An Amal field commander with the code name of 'Abou Jamil' said 10 of his militiamen were killed and 15 taken prisoner in the previous two days.

A police spokesman said three Amal fighters and two other people died and 10 others were wounded Thursday as the fighting tapered off into skirmishes by nightfall.

Police said the recent fighting raised to 115 the death toll in the lastest struggle for control of a string of villages in Iklim Al Toffah, a mountainuous region southeast of Beirut. They said more than 180 people had been wounded.

The rival militias also clashed for 30 minutes in Syrian-controlled west Beirut after an Amal official was wounded in an ambush, police said. Syrian peacekeeping forces intervened and stopped the fighting, they said.

More than 500 people have died in nine months of sporadic clashes between Amal and Hezbollah forces.

'We will fight here for a long time, but definitely there will be a final and big battle,' said a 23-year-old Amal militiaman from behind a barricade.

Um Ali, one of a handful of residents who did not flee the village of Kfar Fila, said her family was forced to remain in the midst of the violence.

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'We have no other place to go in this cold weather,' she said. 'I and my husband can't leave this village because it is the source of our lives.'

Schoolteacher Mohammed Kassem said: 'This war was imposed on us. We refuse to become skulls for the warlords to walk on.'

Numerous residents of Kfar Fila, Kfar Milki, Kfar Hetta and other settlements fled with their belongings as Hezbollah forces wrested control from Amal militiamen in the surprise attack Sunday.

The villages, with a combined population of 12,000 poor farmers, were almost deserted Thursday.

Mohammed Ali Becharati, Iran's assistant foreign minister, left Damascus late Wednesday after failing in two days of talks with Syrian officials to find a way to end the intra-Shiite fighting, Beirut radio reported Thursday.

Besharati delivered a letter Tuesday from Iranian President Ali Khamenei to his Syrian counterpart, Hafez Assad, and was to go to Lebanon to transmit similar letters to the leaders of the rival Shiite groups.

An editorial in the Iranian newspaper Abrar during Becharati's trip accused Syria of plotting 'to wipe out Hezbollah.' The editorial said there was 'no hope for the success of current efforts by Iran to end the fighting,' said Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency.

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'Amal's reliance on Damascus and Syria's hostility toward Hezbollah is today causing these groups to fight each other rather than join hands for the liberation of Lebanon from foreign domination,' the editorial said.

Syria did not immediately comment but sources close to Amal said leaders of the group had told Iran they would reject any peace initiative by the Persian Gulf power.

But the Beirut-based As Saifr newspaper said Syria and Iran agreed that 'all efforts should be exerted to end the Amal-Hezbollah rift.'

Though Syria is Iran's main Arab ally, the two countries cannot agree on which should control Lebanon's 1 million Shiite Moslems.

The fighting broke out last April when Amal forces crushed Hezbollah's military infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah fighters in May ousted Amal forces from most of their strongholds in Beirut's suburbs in fighting that prompted Syria to deploy 7,000 troops in the neighboring country.

Outside Sidon, 24 miles south of Beirut, Israeli warplanes pounded bases of the radical Fatah Revolutionary Council, a Palestinian organization led by Abu Nidal, widely considered the world's most dangerous terrorist.

Police said two Israeli jets fired at least four rockets at two bases in the village of Bkusta, wounding four guerrillas.

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At least 150 people have died in the past year in more than 25 Israeli air strikes.

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