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Lebanon fighting prevents Red Cross from removing bodies

By ABDEL MAWLA KHALMED

SIDON, Lebanon -- The International Committee of the Red Cross Sunday urged warring Shiite Moslem forces to observe a cease-fire to facilitate the evacuation of victims from an embattled southern district.

The Red Cross made the appeal after failing to dispatch a relief team to the Iklim Al Tuffah region east of the port city of Sidon, 24 miles south of Beirut, because of sporadic cannon and rocket exchanges between pro-Syrian Shiite Amal militiamen and their fundamentalist Hezbollah rivals.

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The Red Cross has not been able to move the wounded and dead from the region for several days, it said in a statement.

'The ICRC calls again upon all parties to consider its urgent appeal in favor of the victims of the conflict and to respond positively to its request for a humanitarian cease-fire,' the statement said.

An 18-hour battle Saturday killed 31 people and wounded 80 others, security sources said.

The casualty toll in 13 days of violence rose to at least 140 killed and 330 wounded.

Witnesses said the rivals were still trading heavy artillery, rockets and machinegun fire Sunday, 24 hours after the violence broke out. They said the fighting inflicted heavy damage, set homes on fire and forced thousands of residents to flee for their lives.

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Security sources sources said Amal gunmen launched a large-scale offensive at noon Saturday and gained territory in the village of Kfar Milki in Iqlim Al Tuffah.

An Amal statement said its fighters tightened control over Kfar Milki and battles were still raging on the Kfar Fila-Jernaya-Kfar Milki axis.

Security sources said Amal captured an unknown number of Hezbollah fighters during the attack.

Hezbollah said its gunmen repulsed the attacks and accused Israeli forces stationed in overlooking hills of shelling its positions.

Medical sources said at least 30 Palestinian guerrillas were among the wounded during Saturday's battles.

Some 450 Palestinian guerrillas loyal to Palestine Liberation Organization Chief Yasser Arafat have deployed in the region for two weeks week as a disengagement force.

The guerrillas took up positions in the Amal-controlled villages. Hezbollah charged the Palestinians were providing artillery cover for Amal offensives.

About 1,700 Palestinian guerrillas backed by military vehicles have been deployed at 30 locations in Houmin, Kfar Abid and the Sarba hills overlooking Hezbollah and Amal positions since the Tuffah battles erupted late last December.

It was the Palestinians' biggest expansion in southern Lebanon since Israel crushed PLO's military infrastructure in southern Lebanon in the 1982 invasion.

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Witnesses said clouds of black smoke covered the embattled areas as hundreds of civilians fled their homes carrying only essential belongings.

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