Clinton fears war in Mid-East

Worried that Israel and Syria are sliding towards a war in Lebanon, President Bill Clinton is trying to get the two countries to resume the peace talks broken off a year ago. After talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, in Washington, Mr Clinton said he felt encouraged, but an Israeli official said yesterday that there had been no breakthrough.

The guerrilla war by Hizbollah, the Lebanese Islamic movement, against Israeli forces occupying a nine-mile wide zone in south Lebanon is unlikely to end as long as Israel holds the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in 1967, Israel believes. Officials say that Pesident Hafez al-Assad of Syria sees the fighting in Leb-anon as an important way of putting pressure on Israel over the Golan.

Mr Netanyahu is quoted in the Israeli press as telling Mr Clinton: "You must make it clear to Assad that he must think of other options - the option of a total withdrawal from the Golan does not exist from our point of view."

Zeev Schiff, an Israeli military commentator, says the United States does not want to start talks which would get nowhere. He adds that this is "despite the American belief that in the absence of a peace process, the sides will slide downwards towards war."

Attacks by the Israeli force in Lebanon earier this week were directed at positions in the Beka'a valley, which is under Syrian control, in order to demonstrate Israeli military superiority in the wake of a series of successful guerrilla attacks and the helicopter accident which killed 73 Israeli troops.

The US opposes a unilateral Israeli pull-out. President Clinton said: "It is crucial Israel protects the security of its northern border." A further impediment to talks with Syria is that President Assad is seriously ill, a US official said.

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