Special U.S. envoy Philip C. Habib returned here today to continue his nearly two-week-old effort to ease the Middle East missile confrontation amid signs that Syria is gathering broader support from other Arab states for its insistence on keeping its missiles in Lebanon.
The newspaper of Syria's ruling Baath Socialist Party, Al Baath, greeted Habib with a front-page commentary charging that he had offered nothing during his two previous visits. The government radio in Saudi Arabia, where Habib spent the past two days reportedly urging the influence on Syria, saw him off with an attack on Israel's alleged aggression in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Syria continued to draw support from other Arab states, with Morocco and Tunisia joining the fold today and Algeria calling for an urgent meeting of Arab foreign ministers on the issue.
Habib is expected to meet again Tuesday with Syrian President Hafez Assad and then go to Israel again in a continuation of his efforts to prevent renewed hostilities over the presence of Syrian antiaircraft missiles in Lebanon.
State Department spokesman Dean Fischer said in Washington that Habib had "good talks" in Riyadh over the weekend with Saudi leaders and said that "the Saudis, we believe, are playing a very constructive role" in mediation of the crisis. By contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said in Jerusalem that Saudi Arabia "is one of the most corrupt states in the world" and "is not capable of playing any useful role whatsoever" in resolving the crisis.
[In Washington, Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin met at the State Department with Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. for the second time since Friday. No details were announced, but the Lebanese crisis is believed to have been discussed.]
Habib and Assad were reported to have gotten along well during their two previous meetings but the Al Baath editorial and comments by Syrian officials today indicated patience may be running out here with the mission.
"Syria has listened to the American envoy and there is nothing in what he says but insistence on interference in Lebanese affairs," said Al Baath, which is considered to authoritatively reflect Assad's views.
"Syria is ready to listen to him," it said "only to be acquainted with the actual objectives hidden under his diplomatic cloak."
At a Cabinet meeting today, Premier Abdel-Rauf Kasm said it is up to Habib to present new proposals. He accused Habib of pressing Israel's demands that Syria remove the three batteries of ground-to-air missiles it moved into Lebanon 19 days ago. The missiles were sent into Lebanon after Israeli warplanes shot down two Syrian helicopters that Israel said were waging war on Israeli-backed Lebanese Christian forces there.
Assad repeatedly has said Syria will not remove the missles under Israeli or U.S pressure, and in a speech reported today pledged "to resist every attempt on the part of Israel to interfere in Lebanon's affairs."
Officials here continued to insist the missiles were placed in Lebanon to protect Syrian troops in that country under a 1976 Arab League mandate to preserve a truce in a civil war that appears about to flare up again.
Israel contends that the missiles pose a danger to its security and it has threatened to destroy the batteries if Syria does not remove them.
Officials here said Habib should use U.S. influence to stop Israel from interfering in Lebanon, where it is supporting Christian units who have created a security belt along the Israeli border in the south and now is also supporting Christian forces in central Lebanon.
Saudi radio said: "Those who really want stability in the area should realize how dangerous open Israeli interference in Lebanese affairs is and how big Israel's ambitions are against all Arabs."
Saudi radio said any encroachment on Arab land "could be an encroachment on Saudi Arabia itself. Any danger posed to Lebanon or Syria or both is a danger posed to Saudi Arabia."