Assad Welcomes Christopher To Syria

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DAMASCUS, Syria: Secretary of State Warren Christopher met with Syrian President Hafez Assad Wednesday for a marathon 4 1/2 hour session of talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire between Israel and Hizballah guerrillas in Lebanon. Despite canceling a Tuesday meeting with Christopher, Assad insists he was not snubbing the U.S. envoy. U.S. officials speculated that Assad, who has battled health problems for more than a decade, may have been sick. As soon as Christopher's meeting with Assad ended, the secretary traveled in a heavily guarded motorcade to Chtaura, in the heart of Lebanon's Bekaa valley, to meet with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. "The secretary felt it was important to be in Lebanon with the Lebanese prime minister," said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. "The objective is to get him to sign on to the American plan." In Washington, President Clinton met with Lebanese President Elias Hrawi and told reporters following the meeting, "I hope we're quite close. I've got some encouraging news that I can't announce now." Clinton added that he was guarded against getting too excited about seemingly positive developments. The Lebanese President said he found "a very sincere will" in Clinton to make peace in the Middle East. Even as negotiations continued, Israeli air, artillery and gunboat attacks continued in Lebanon for the 14th consecutive day, pounding suspected Hizballah guerrilla bases and the Beirut-Tyre highway. Rockets fell near a U.N convoy, supplying food and supplies to besieged villages in the South, damaging a U.N armored vehicle. No injuries were reported. Israeli war planes also blasted a pipeline which provides water to 23 villages in southern Lebanon as well as to Irish, Finnish and Ghanaian U.N camps.