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Lebanon: Syrian Pullback to Begin Monday

  • Michael Drudge

Lebanese Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Mrad says the Syrian pullback will begin Monday, with troops withdrawing from coastal and central Lebanon to the eastern Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border.

Mr. Mrad said the redeployment will begin following a meeting in Damascus between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the pro-Syrian Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud.

President Assad announced the withdrawal Saturday, but he did not specify a timetable. Mr. Assad said he will eventually pull the troops back to the Syrian-Lebanese border.

The Assad announcement has drawn mixed reactions in Lebanon. A Lebanese Christian leader and member of parliament, Samir Frangie, said it was a positive step, but he is worried Syria will continue to manipulate Lebanon's internal politics.

"I was very disappointed by the tone of President Assad, and it was an occasion to say: 'Look, you and us, we made errors. Let us begin a new page in our relations.' He didn't say that," said Mr. Frangie.

Pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon have announced a demonstration Tuesday to protest international demands that Syria withdraw all of its troops immediately.

The leader of the pro-Syrian militant organization Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, says the pullout should not happen, because Lebanon is still in what he calls a state of war with Israel.

He denounces a U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by the United States and France, which demands an immediate Syrian withdrawal and dismantling of terrorist organizations. He calls it foreign intervention.

Syria has been under mounting international pressure to get out of Lebanon, since the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Syria denies involvement in the killing, but anti-Syrian demonstrators have held daily rallies in Beirut to demand that Syrian troops leave.

Syria had maintained it needed its troops in Lebanon to counter Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

Syrian forces first entered Lebanon in 1976, with an Arab League mandate to quell a 15-year civil war, but Syrian troops stayed on, despite a 1990 accord that ended the conflict.