Grieving Lebanon

IN the wake of the tragic assassination of Lebanese President Ren'e Muawad last Wednesday - just 17 days after he was elected by Lebanon's Parliament - two facts indicate the situation in that war-scorched nation. First, no one knows for sure which faction ordered and carried out the bombing of the presidential motorcade. Suspicion fell immediately on the Maronite Christian military chief, Gen. Michel Aoun, who regards himself as the rightful head of state and who has curled his lip at the Arab League accord under which Mr. Muawad was elected. General Aoun has condemned the assassination, however. That's to be expected; nonetheless, any number of other groups in that seething land had a motive and the capability to detonate the fatal explosion.

The other telling fact is that Muawad's successor, Elias Hrawi, was, like Muawad himself, elected miles from Beirut, in an area under Syrian control. For security, Syrian troops conveyed the members of Parliament who named Mr. Hrawi to their meeting place in the Bekaa Valley.

The Lebanese Parliament acted wisely in appointing a new president so swiftly. The lawmakers hoped to head off a resumption of the artillery barrages that have made rubble of Beirut. And given Muawad's fate, Hrawi is courageous in accepting the office. He has signaled his intention to implement the peace plan devised at Taif, Saudi Arabia, recently, by appointing a national unity Cabinet divided between Maronites and Muslims.

But Hrawi has Muawad's political liabilities without his stature. Like Muawad, Hwari - though a Maronite Catholic - accepts a role for Syria in determining Lebanon's destiny. This makes him equally unacceptable to the implacable Aoun, who insists that Syrian forces must withdraw from Lebanon before meaningful constitutional changes can be achieved.

Aoun has been widely denounced as an intransigent foe of peace, but he's not simply a rogue spoiler. He commands the loyalty of Lebanon's Maronite minority because he champions their interests. One can deplore Aoun's apparent unwillingness to take even the first steps along the road to peace mapped out at Taif. Yet the circumstances of Muawad's and now Hrawi's elections do little to quiet Maronite fears of being submerged in a Muslim state led by a Syrian puppet government.

Lasting peace in Lebanon requires some shortening of Damascus's shadow. The Arab states that midwifed the promising Taif peace plan, with American encouragement, skirted the issue of Syrian occupation. They need to confront it more squarely - perhaps suggesting a timetable for withdrawal - if Aoun's long guns are to rest silent.

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