Lebanon bars way to peace accord

THE United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, arrived in Damascus yesterday to find the agenda dominated by one word: Lebanon, writes Charles Richards.

It says something of Mr Christopher's commitment to the region that, at a time of crises in Haiti and Bosnia, he should have returned once more to the Middle East only two weeks after he left. After agreements reached between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and Israel and Jordan, he is investing his personal efforts in a Syrian-Israel accord. Agreement over an Israel withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for a Syrian commitment to peace is not beyond reach. But Lebanon stands in the way.

Lebanon is both symptom and cause of the rivalry between Israel and Syria. Israel blames Syria for any upsurge of violence by Hizbollah, the radical Shia force. Two Israeli soldiers on patrol in southern Lebanon were killed on Saturday by Hizbollah fighters, and rockets were fired into northern Israel. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, warned that Israel would continue to attack Hizbollah targets if provoked.

Syria maintains that Hizbollah are Lebanese resistance fighters engaging in a legitimate struggle to rid their country of foreign - that is, (in their eyes) Israeli - forces. The truth is somewhere in between.

Meanwhile yet another brick in the wall dividing Jordan and Israel was removed yesterday when Israel's President Ezer Weizmann phoned King Hussein in Amman in the first call between the two states, formally inaugurating direct links between their countries. Since the creation of their state in 1948, Israelis have not been able to dial their Arab neighbours directly (except Egypt, which made peace in 1979). Phone calls have had to be routed through Atlanta or Nicosia.

(Photograph omitted)

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