WASHINGTON — LEBANON may be headed for more fighting following the failure of last week's Arab summit to agree on a peace plan. Syria resisted pressure from arch-rival Iraq for the summit to support a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon as part of an effort to bring peace to warring Lebanese factions. Damascus also scuttled a more moderate proposal by Jordan for Syrian troops around Beirut to be replaced by an Arab peace-keeping force.
``The optimists are saying that while Armageddon may well erupt again soon in Lebanon, Syria now knows that it is isolated in the Arab world over the long term,'' a Western diplomat says. ``The pessimists say Syria doesn't care....''
Many worry that the still bitter Syrian-Iraqi rivalry will now be played out with more Iraqi arms shipments to Lebanon's besieged Christian enclave and more indiscriminate shelling of it by Syrian troops and their Lebanese militia allies. Late last week, Syrian warplanes also flew unusual reconnaissance missions over Christian areas, apparently looking for Iraqi-supplied Frog missiles. If provided, they could allow Christian forces to hit Damascus, US specialists say. Israeli officials were alarmed by the Syrian overflights, US officials say. But neither Israeli nor US specialists say a Syrian assault on the Christian heartland is imminent.
The ray of hope from the Arab Summit was the creation of a committee, including leaders of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Algeria, to search for a solution, informed diplomats say. Attention is focused on Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, whose country has leverage with Syria because of subsidies it provides. One Arab diplomat, however, believes Fahd would need assurances that Syrian President Hafez Assad would compromise and his forces leave Beirut.
Absent movement in the Arab League, the UN is the logical forum for addressing flare-ups, US officials say. US-Soviet cooperation might make that profitable, they say. At Soviet suggestion, the two superpowers issued a statement May 11 calling for a cease-fire and offering their services in search of a solution. Because of Moscow's ties to Syria, Soviet cooperation is limited. But because Moscow volunteered, it suggests willingness, US officials say.