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Christopher Waits For Hezbollah’s Terms For Cease-fire

April 22, 1996

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ On the third day of his diplomatic shuttle, Secretary of State Warren Christopher today waited for Hezbollah’s terms to halt its conflict with Israel.

The extremist Shiite group wants to force Israel to withdraw from its security zone inside the Lebanese border. But U.S. officials said a pullout could not be part of a cease-fire deal, but would have to be worked out as part of an overall peace settlement between Israel, Syria and Lebanon.

``We think we have a chance of putting a deal together this week,″ Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman, said as Christopher headed into a meeting with Syrian President Hafez Assad.

``Success is not assured. We’ll stay as long as it is useful.″

Christopher came to the Middle East on Saturday, saying his aim was an immediate cease-fire. That goal has eluded him, but he is not giving up.

After seeing Assad and possibly French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette, Christopher was due to return to Jerusalem to meet again with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Christopher has credited Assad with working hard for a cease-fire. Now he is depending on the Syrian leader to push Hezbollah into an acceptable agreement.

``What we have said for a long time is that we think they have the ability to influence Hezbollah, but not necessarily to control what Hezbollah does,″ a senior U.S. official said.

Peres has pledged to halt Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates, if the guerrilla group stops shelling northern Israeli villages.

On Sunday, he criticized the mushrooming number of peacemakers and said only the United States was capable of working out a cease-fire in southern Lebanon.

``It cannot be done from many channels,″ Peres said as American, Russian and European diplomats crisscrossed the region pursuing their own proposals to end the fighting.

Clearly preferring American mediation over the others, Peres said, ``If there will be more than one channel there will be total confusion.″

The Israeli leader, the target of rising world criticism for the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon _ but supported unwaveringly by the Clinton administration _ met twice Sunday with Christopher.

Christopher then flew to Damascus for a second meeting with Assad. Five photographs of the Syrian leader’s first session with Christopher and his meetings with the foreign ministers of France, Italy, Russia and Iran appeared on the front pages of all the government-controlled Arabic language newspapers.

A U.S. official grumbled: ``Assad’s meeting with everyone. He’s dealing with us.″

However, Christopher still has not determined what Hezbollah’s terms are for a cease-fire. ``We don’t have a clear answer,″ said another U.S. official.

The two officials spoke to reporters traveling with Christopher on grounds they would not be identified.

Defending the assault on Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon, Peres said, ``It’s a matter of self-defense.″ More than 100 Lebanese civilians have been killed in Israel’s Operation Grapes Of Wrath.

Christopher’s mediation is aimed at a cease-fire and laying the groundwork for an agreement to replace and strengthen the accord he worked out in 1993 that was supposed to spare civilians from attack.

``Lots of ideas are being handed back and forth,″ Burns said.

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