A fierce shelling duel between Syrian and Christian gunners kept civilians off the streets Friday and delayed a French humanitarian mission to Lebanon.

Only a handful of people ventured out of basements and underground bomb shelters early in the day to shop for food supplies after the clashes subsided into sporadic mortar exchanges.By police count, 215 people have been killed and 727 wounded since the current confrontation between Gen. Michel Aoun's Christian troops and an alliance of Syrian and Druse forces started March 8.

A police spokesman said 25,000 shells and rockets slammed into Beirut's Moslem and Christian sectors in the 20-hour duel that coincided with the 14th anniversary of the outbreak of civil war in 1975.

The exchange eased hours after an Arab League panel meeting in Kuwait issued its third cease-fire appeal the past month.

Two French navy vessels, the hospital ship La Rance and a tanker, the Penhors, remained outside Lebanese territorial waters awaiting sailing orders from French Humanitarian Assistance Minister Bernard Kouchner, who is in Beirut.

The hospital ship was due to drop anchor in Lebanese waters Thursday and take Moslem and Christian wounded on board, but the shelling forced "postponement of the operation until further notice," said a source with the Moslem Cabinet of acting prime minister Salim Hoss.

The tanker was to deliver fuel oil to Moslem- and Christian-controlled ports so that power stations can continue providing electricity.