Assad, Gemayel Hold 'Very Positive' Meeting on Lebanon Plan

From Reuters

Lebanese President Amin Gemayel and Syrian President Hafez Assad held five hours of talks on Thursday on a Syrian-backed peace pact signed by three of Lebanon's Christian and Muslim militia factions.

"They discussed the practical ways and means of carrying out the peace plan," said a source close to Gemayel. He called the private meeting "very positive."

The source said that Gemayel, who arrived here Thursday amid tight security, spent the night in the Syrian capital. He did not say whether more talks will be held today.

Troops ringed the Damascus residence where Gemayel is staying, two days after he escaped an apparent assassination attempt on New Year's Eve in the Lebanese capital.

Political sources in Beirut said Assad is pressing Gemayel, a Christian, to throw his support behind the pact and help counter opposition to it among Christian factions.

"Syria will continue to provide all necessary backing for the agreement without hesitation," the Damascus newspaper Tishrin said Thursday.

Boycotted Talks

Gemayel took no part in the talks that produced the accord. An attack on the Lebanese president's Mercedes-Benz limousine near Beirut last Tuesday--Gemayel was not in the car at the time--has heightened tension between his supporters and the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia that signed the pact with the Druze and Shia Muslim militias.

The Lebanese peace agreement has met strong opposition from established Christian politicians despite repeated statements of support from Syria, the main power-broker in Lebanese affairs.

The agreement stipulates wide-ranging reforms reducing the power of the Christian-held presidency and phasing out a power-sharing system favoring the Christian minority.

Meanwhile, Syria freed 12 Lebanese Forces militiamen held for up to four years in the latest of a series of releases marking that militia's improved relations with Damascus.

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