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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Christopher Spurned by Syria's Assad

DAMASCUS -- President Hafez Assad declined Tuesday to confer with Secretary of State Warren Christopher as he arrived with Israel's response to a plan to end violence in Lebanon between Israel and Moslem guerrillas.

Upon his return to Damascus from Jerusalem, Christopher was told by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa that Assad was "not available,'' a State Department official said.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Christopher would head back to Jerusalem, where he met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Tit-for-tat cross-border rocket and bombing exchanges between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah guerrillas continued Tuesday for the 13th day. The violence has killed more than 150 people.

Meanwhile, top Russian officials criticized on Tuesday the United States for trying to dominate peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.

"The United States showed no wish [in recent days] to coordinate actions in settling the conflict between Israel and Lebanon,'' First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at a briefing in Moscow.

At about the time Christopher returned to Damascus, Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, arrived from Morocco for talks with Syrian officials. Iran is principal financier of and holds considerable sway over Hezbollah.

And Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and that country's parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, met privately for most of Tuesday with Abdul-Halim Khaddam, Syria's vice president.

French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette, who said he had "useful talks'' in Damascus with Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, flew to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli officials.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday that de Charette told an interviewer France wants Israel to leave its self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon. He expressed willingness "to contribute to this in the framework of an international force,'' Haaretz said.

Both Israel and Syria were proposing changes in a one-page document Christopher brought to Damascus from Jerusalem. "Nothing's approved,'' a senior U.S. official said. "Nothing's finished until everything's finished.''

Before the Assad meeting was scrubbed, Christopher planned at least one more round-trip between Israel and Syria seeking a written agreement to prevent the kind of violence wracking southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

It was unclear what effect the development in Damascus would have. In Washington, a White House official speaking on condition he not be identified said, "Do not read too much into this.''