Lebanon quiet, but at what price? See editorial on A26.THESE DAYS, LEBANESE hospital wards are filled with accident victims and soccer players with broken ankles, not wounded militiamen or civilians hit by shell splinters.
Beirut is rising from the ashes once again. The civil war might really be over.Thousands of Lebanese who fled the carnage now plan to return and are enrolling their children in schools. Workers are scraping morbid photos of militia "martyrs" off the city's walls and putting up colorful posters for concerts and carnivals.
Peace really seems at hand this time, after 16 years of civil war that cost an estimated 150,000 lives and displaced one-fourth of the 4 million people who lived in Lebanon.
On the orders of President Elias Hrawi, soldiers moved into the cantons of Maronite Catholics and Druse Muslims northeast and southeast of Beirut this week, exerting government authority there for the first time in years.
The main Maronite and Druse militias are surrendering their heavy weapons in the second phase of a peace plan arranged by the Arab League. Militias withdrew from Beirut during the first phase, in December.
Disarming other factions, the final and most difficult stage, is to begin July 1.
That will put the army in direct confrontation in the south with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel's surrogate South Lebanon Army, and in the east with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their Shiite Muslim protege militia Hezbollah, or Party of God.
These groups refuse to surrender their weapons. The Israelis and their allied militia occupy a border zone and refuse to relinquish it because of the threat from the PLO and other guerrilla factions.
Still, the civil war that began in April 1975 appears to have ended.
Gone is the Green Line, a detested no-man's land running for five miles between the Christian and Muslim sectors of Beirut. The army bulldozed it.
People are visiting old friends on the other side for the first time in a decade.
Christian militia commander Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt, the Druse warlord, have declared publicly that they consider the war over.
"A new peace is dawning," said Geagea, once a medical student and now commander of the Lebanese Forces. "Arise in welcome, salute it and be happy for its arrival."
As-Safir, a leftist Beirut daily, declared in response: "This is like an official obituary for the era of the militias."
Hrawi's authority depends largely on the support of Syria, which has 40,000 soldiers in Lebanon under a 1976 peacekeeping mandate from the Arab League, but the army now controls about one-fourth of the country.
More importantly, many of the militiamen who strutted the Beirut streets and fought each other in turf wars have resigned themselves to the loss of power - at least for the time being.
Some feel bitter. "We're the ones who risked our lives for Lebanon," one said. "The army's just taking over after we did the dirty and dangerous work for them."
Most Lebanese seem to feel their nightmare is finally over and Hrawi can start putting the shattered economy back together.
Beirut will need years of rebuilding to become the commercial center of the Middle East, as it was before 1975.
It may never again be the playground of Arab oil sheiks and high rollers, but with financial backing from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, the Lebanese are ready to take their best shot.
"The war's over. It's really true. It's no longer just a dream," said Hiyam Shami, a Muslim secretary. "It's the first time since the war started that I've felt this way, this good."
More than 50 restaurants and boutiques have opened in recent months. Gutted stores have acquired new facades, and churches and hotels have been renovated.
Stone blocks and sandbags that protected stores and apartments from shrapnel and gunfire are being moved away. Underground shelters, where thousands of families spent weeks on end when the fighting raged, are being cleaned and closed, in hopes they won't be needed again.
Police, after years as hapless bystanders to militia battles, are beginning to reassert their authority.
They also have a new mission: wiping out packs of stray dogs that lived in the Green Line ruins, feeding off the corpses of slain gunmen. The dogs now scavenge in residential areas, terrifying the people.
Operations are resuming at the battered international airport, but it is used only by Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national carrier, and a few eastern European airlines. The Dutch airline KLM and others are sending teams to discuss resuming flights, many for the first time in at least 15 years.
Electricity and water, cut off completely a year ago, now are provided 6 to 12 hours a day. At other times, the city hums with the sound of thousands of generators.
Skeptics remain. Peace agreements have come and gone before.
Patrick Smith, whose supermarket offers a rich variety of imported goods, has not removed the stone blocks around his west Beirut store.
"They're part of the decor," he said. "And, anyway, I'm still afraid of bombings."
Some people even feel nostalgia for the crazy days when militias ran the city and Muslim west Beirut, in particular, was little more than a shooting gallery for unruly gunmen.
"Those days of the war had a special quality," said Rima Itani, a bank clerk. "The war brought people closer. There was a feeling of camaraderie, shared danger. I miss that."