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Syrian Troops Plan to Begin Leaving Lebanon


As diplomatic pressure mounts on Syria to remove its troops from neighboring Lebanon, Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister said Damascus will continue redeploying its troops, there, in accordance with the 1989 Taef Agreement, which put an end to Lebanon's civil war.

The world community is pushing Damascus to pull its troops out of Lebanon, and a top Syrian official is expressing his country's willingness to comply, in part.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem emphasized that his government will "speed up the pace of its troop withdrawal from Lebanon, but only on the condition that it doesn't disturb security in either Lebanon, or Syria."

Mr. al Muallem also insisted that Syria was in the process of "applying the 1989 Taef Agreement," which ended Lebanon's civil war, and which stipulates that Syria regroup its forces in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

In Beirut, Lebanon's Defense Minister, Abdel Rahim Mourad indicated that Syria was preparing a final redeployment of its troops inside Lebanon "in the next few hours."

"Lebanese and Syrian officials have met," he stressed, "and have agreed upon a sixth redeployment of Syrian forces in Lebanon." Syria began withdrawing its estimated 14,000 troops from Lebanon's coastal regions, last year, and regrouping them in the Bekaa Valley, adjacent to Syria.

Lebanese opposition politicians, as well as President Bush, have also urged Syria to remove its security forces from Lebanon, as well, but Damascus has not yet indicated if it is prepared to do so. The State Department also said, last night, that it was sending a top diplomat to Syria to discuss its withdrawal from Lebanon, and the organizing of free and fair elections, there.

In Damascus, the Syrian press continues to play down the crisis in Lebanon, stressing that only Israel would benefit from destabilization of the country.

Syria's official government daily Teshreen said in an editorial that Damascus would "follow the requests of the Lebanese people," as it has done in the past.

The Arab daily Asharqalawsat indicated that other Arab countries, including Egypt, were trying to ''lend Syria a hand so it could withdraw from Lebanon without losing face."

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