Syria's state-controlled press strongly condemned the Lebanese-Israeli agreement before the Cabinet vote in Jerusalem today, but there was no official reaction here as President Hafez Assad's government awaited the arrival Saturday of Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Israel's acceptance of the U.S. plan for withdrawal of its invasion force from Lebanon, which followed Lebanese approval earlier in the week, puts the ball in Syria's court. Shultz's task will be to attempt to win approval here for a negotiated withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.
The state-controlled news media here have begun a campaign attacking the agreement, calling it, as a commentary on Damascus radio did this afternoon, "capitulating to the Israeli aggressor."
The commentary, broadcast minutes before the Israeli Cabinet decision, said the accords were something that "Lebanon should not accept at all."
"The draft agreement aims at converting Lebanon into a base for espionage and aggression against Syria and the Arabs," it said. "Syria has reaffirmed more than once, and it now reaffirms again that it opposes any agreement that would give Israel any gains in Lebanon."
Syrian soldiers and Israeli troops occupy most of Lebanon and are now virtually nose-to-nose in Lebanon's central mountains, only about 200 yards apart.
By all outward appearances, the tentative accords appear to be opposed by the Syrians. The Damascus radio commentary, mirroring comments earlier today by the government newspaper Tishrin, said, "Any reading of the clauses of the draft agreement which Shultz has arranged shows that Israel has achieved military and political goals which it failed to achieve through its invasion of Lebanon."
Added to those strongly negative signals is the fact that there have been recent indications that the Soviet Union, which has equipped Syria with sophisticated military weapons, might favor a rejection of the withdrawal efforts and also might welcome a Syrian-Israeli war.
Compounding these signs is the fact that earlier this week, Syria and the PLO apparently resolved differences and made up in the first meeting between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Assad since just after the end of the Israeli siege of Beirut last September. Syria and the PLO have been cool toward one another since Syria's failure to come to the PLO's rescue during the siege.
That repaired alliance would appear to make Shultz's mission more difficult. Lebanese officials and Americans in Beirut appeared worried yesterday even as they anticipated the approval by the Israeli Cabinet.
But some journalists who have been here for a few days detect a move of accommodation among the Syrians not reflected in the official rhetoric. They sense that high Syrian government officials are quite wary about another war.
In Lebanon, the feeling is that the stakes are high. Even if there is no war, many Lebanese foresee a devastating result if the Syrians veto the agreement.
If Syria refuses to leave Lebanon, there are fears in Beirut that Israel will do the same, with the result that Lebanon would be partitioned and permanently occupied.