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Habib Back in Israel, Status of Mission Unknown

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U.S. special envoy Philip Habib returned to Israel this afternoon after several weeks’ absence. He flew in from Damascus but neither he nor other American officials would comment on the status of his mission to defuse the Israeli-Syrian missile crisis over Lebanon.

Habib will meet with Premier Menachem Begin tomorrow morning. But reports in the Syrian press and speculation among Israeli observers during the past few days have been uniformly negative with respect to Habib’s chances of success. During his latest visit to the Syrian capital, all indications were that President Hafez Assad will not consent to remove the SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles from Lebanon that Israel has threatened to destroy.

Various comments reported by the State-controlled Kol Israel Radio today reflected pessimism in Israeli official quarters. The consensus seemed to be that Habib’s mission is going on endlessly with no progress in sight. Virtually the same view was expressed in Syria’s government-controled press this week.

Israeli sources stressed that Begin would give the American diplomat all the time he needs to come up with a peaceful solution if Habib himself would indicate that he had reasonable prospects to do so. He has been on his mission for six weeks, including a week in Washington for consultations and has visited Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Israel a number of times.

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