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Syria gains in Lebanon equation as Israeli accord loses

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To echoes of gunfire from back home, Lebanon's reconciliation conference seems to be consecrating the diluted power of the country's pro-Western forces. One important beneficiary appears likely to be Syria, whose foreign minister has been participating in the Geneva conference as a distinctly active and vocal ''observer.''

And even as the conference proceeded, the Syrians were gaining back home in a military and political bid to supplant longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with a less politically elusive, and more pro-Syrian, figure.

Pro-Damascus Palestinians were launching an all-out artillery assault on Mr. Arafat's beleaguered forces in the Baddawi refugee camp on the outskirts of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. According to Beirut news reports, Syrian planes backed the assault on the Arafat forces with air strikes.

At the conference, meanwhile, Syria and its Lebanese-opposition allies were by Thursday evening inching toward compromise wording to get the country's right-wing government publicly to back off from its May peace accord with Israel.

The Lebanese opposition leaders, apparently with at least acquiescence from Syria, were so far stopping well short of pushing for a stark, literal commitment to ''abrogate'' the accord outright.

But symptomatic of the limited political options of the Lebanese and US governments was the fact both parties were communicating readiness to go a good way toward their opponents' search for what one opposition source called ''a way of saying we want to abrogate the agreement without really saying so.''

At the very least, both Lebanon's governing Christian religious-political figures and the American envoy to the talks were making it clear that they were resigned to the fact that the accord would be in the de facto deep freeze for the foreseeable future.


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