THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN/The New York Times, February 9, 1984
U.S. BATTLESHIP POUNDS HILLS HELD BY SYRIANS IN LEBANON; BRITAIN; PULLING OUT TROOPS
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Feb. 8 - The United States battleship New Jersey bombarded Druse and Syrian gun batteries in Lebanon for more than nine hours today in the heaviest and most sustained American military action since the marines arrived here 16 months ago.
The gunfire was directed at targets ''in Syrian-controlled Lebanon which have been firing on the city of Beirut,'' a Marine spokesman, Maj. Dennis Brooks, said. The shells fired into the capital had landed in Christian-dominated East Beirut, several miles from the Marine compound at Beirut International Airport.
In Washington, the Pentagon said the destroyer Caron joined in the bombardment, firing more than 300 five-inch shells. It said the New Jersey fired more than 250 16-inch shells.
According to the Lebanese Christian Phalangist radio, the American bombardment pounded artillery and missile batteries from Shuweifat, just south of Beirut, all the way to around Shtaura, 22 miles east of the capital. The radio said 30 Druse and Syrian gun batteries had been knocked out along with a Druse military command post.
British Force Moves Out
Before the bombardment, the 115-man British contingent of the multinational force left its positions in Hadath, a suburb south of Beirut. Starting at 8 A.M. it drove with all its equipment to the port of Junieh, just north of Beirut, where it was shuttled by helicopter to the transport vessel Reliant.
The British departure followed by hours President Reagan's order of a phased pullback, to begin shortly, of the United States Marine contingent from its compound at the airport to ships offshore.
(The British Defense Ministry said in London that the British contingent would remain on the Reliant ''until the situation becomes more clear.'' Italy ordered a gradual pullback of its 1,600-man force, but French officials said in Paris said that the 1,500 French soldiers would remain for the time being. Page A15.)
The positions that had been held by the British troops were taken over by Lebanese Army units loyal to the Government of President Amin Gemayel. Major Brooks, the Marine spokesman, said the 1,470 American servicemen stationed in Beirut were awaiting orders from Washington on when to begin their staged pullback to the Sixth Fleet vessels offshore. He said it would take the marines three to five days to pack all their equipment and make an ''orderly'' transfer to the ships.
The Marine commander in Beirut, Brig. Gen. Jim R. Joy, said ''that's another matter'' when asked whether there were any plans to evacuate the 2,000 to 3,000 American civilians from Beirut. The general added that the marines had the ability to evacuate civilians if the need arose.
President Reagan announced Tuesday that American naval and air forces off Lebanon would now attack any units behind Syrian lines that were firing into the Beirut area.
Western military sources said the New Jersey bombardment began at 1:25 P.M. and ended at 11 P.M.
Late tonight American fighter-bombers could be heard flying over Beirut and the hills to the east, but whether they were involved in any action was not immediately clear.
Previously, the Americans had fired their naval guns only in retaliation for attacks on the Marine compound or, in one instance last September, to help the Lebanese Army repulse a Syrian- backed Druse assault on Suk al Gharb, which is on a ridge nine miles from downtown Beirut. Scattering for Cover
The New Jersey's huge 16-inch guns could be clearly seen spewing long yellow flames as they blasted away from the ship's position south of Beirut. Each round fired by its gunners shook the entire city. Windows rattled, and the terrifying roar sent the few people on the streets scattering for cover.
The shelling by anti-Government forces of East Beirut that preceded the bombardment by the battleship was similar to firing that has occurred here almost daily for two months. Such incidents have been part of a continuing war between the Lebanese Army and the Christian Phalangist militia on one side and the Syrians and Moslem militiamen on the other.
According to Western military sources, sometimes the Syrian and Druse shelling has been unprovoked and other times it has come in retaliation for bombardments of Druse villages by the Lebanese Army and Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen. Questions Raised
Some Lebanese and Western military and political sources questioned what this major increase in American military involvement in Lebanon might accomplish at a time when the authority of President Gemayel has been weakened by the Moslem takeover of West Beirut.
A Christian who was a former Cabinet minister said that if Mr. Gemayel were close to any kind of reconciliation with his opponents, the heavy use of American firepower might be of help to him in diminishing Syrian influence over the Lebanese Druse and Shiite factions. But such a reconciliation is nowhere near, said the former minister, who is close to the political negotiations.
Shiite and Druse militiamen cradling an assortment of weapons set up checkpoints at key intersections around the city early today, throwing traffic into a tangled mess.
Many residents remained barricaded in their homes as the New Jersey's rounds sailed overhead, and fighting was reported along the so- called green line dividing East Beirut from the predominantly Moslem western half of the capital.
The clashes pitted Shiite Amal and Druse militiamen against the Christian Phalangist militia along with army units loyal to the President. Stocks of Liquor Destroyed
Extremist Shiite Moslem gunmen, some dressed in Lebanese Army uniforms, broke into bars and smashed their stocks of liquor on the sidewalks. The gunmen even came into the bar of the Commodore Hotel, where foreign correspondents are staying.
The Commodore bartender, having heard of what was happening elsewhere, had replaced his liquor display with cans of soda and bottles of mineral water, but a gunman found the wine, whisky and vodka hidden under the bar and smashed the bottles with the butt of his rifle.
This evening, in response to complaints that the militiamen were running out of control, a security committee set up by the militia commanders ordered all gunmen off the streets. The security committee now ruling West Beirut is made up of representatives of the Shiite Amal militia, the Druse Progressive Socialist Party and the Mourabitoun, a Sunni Moslem Nasserite militia that had been suppressed by the army but was resurrected this week with the army's decline in West Beirut.
The security committee statement issued over the state-run Beirut radio, now under the influence of the bands of the West Beirut militias, also declared that as of Thursday ''all police duties in West Beirut will be handled by remaining elements of the Government's internal security force.''
Pentagon Describes Targets
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 - Most of the targets fired at today by the warships off Lebanon were in the mountains east of the town of Hammana, about 15 miles east of Beirut, the Pentagon reported. The area is controlled by Syrians.
Michael I. Burch, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said the New Jersey had aimed at 15 targets including artillery, antitank artillery, antiaircraft emplacements and command bunkers. He said bad weather and ''observation problems'' had prevented accurate assessment of damage caused by the shelling.
The New Jersey's 16-inch guns can fire 1,900-pound high-explosive shells almost 23 miles. Its 5-inch guns can reach targets more than 12 miles away.
The battleship carries nine 16-inch guns in three turrets. One official said he thought much of the firing had been done by a single gun at a time.Each gun can fire two shells a minute. The New Jersey carries armor-piercing shells that weigh 2,700 pounds each and are mainly designed for surface naval warfare against armored ships. It also carries what are known as high-capacity or high-explosive shells weighing 1,900 pounds each. A naval officer said he thought the smaller shells were used today.
The Navy would not say how much ammunition the ship carries for its big guns. The ammunition has not been manufactured since the Korean War, according to Jane's Fighting Ships, which said the Navy had stockpiled about 21,000 shells.