76. Telegram From the Embassy in Lebanon to the Department of State1

4726. Rome pass information Niact COMSIXTHFLEET. London pass Niact CINCNELM. There has been fairly serious fighting in Beirut today. This originated in an attempt by opposition forces from Basta seeking to take Sablons prison, apparently seeking to liberate prisoners who otherwise might have furnished incriminating evidence to UN observers. Although one police post was taken, army action frustrated attack. Opposition then turned main effort on President’s palace where [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] had a very hot dish of tea. At one time during engagement Chamoun in yellow sports shirt engaged in rifle fire from roof of palace. Fighting still continues intermittently in this area; air strikes were made with rockets against the Basta (but with unknown results).

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] informed by Chamoun at 1730 local time there it might be necessary to call for UK–US intervention; but he was by no means sure. At 19 hours [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] received message Prime Minister Solh indicating that either (a) SYG UN should immediately furnish “police forces” or (b) US might wish to despatch units of Sixth Fleet “strictly for protection of American lives and property” Prime Minister added he thought situation in Beirut was out of control and asked my intervention with President in respect of the two measures he advocated.

Summary: Situation in Beirut is undoubtedly grave and ability of security forces to contain Moslem mob is subject to doubt since General Chehab has deployed most of army outside Beirut. However his

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disposition should be able to forestall a descent by Jumblat Druzes against Beirut; and he could probably redeploy sufficient forces to maintain control in capital. In consequence I do not believe Sixth Fleet should be more than placed on immediate alert. However I do urgently recommend that our two destroyers which I understand are within six hours steaming, stand-by at dawn tomorrow, June 15, 30 miles off Beirut. They should be capable of 30 knots on call. I am by separate channel requesting opening of Voice Radio communications with these ships.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 783A.00/6–1458. Top Secret; Niact. Repeated to London, Rome, Cairo, Damascus, Paris, Baghdad, Amman, Tel Aviv, and USUN. Received at 7:04 p.m. A note on the source text indicates that Rountree was informed at 9:50 p.m.