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Syria Says it Will Pull Troops from Lebanon


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he will begin withdrawing Syrian troops from central Lebanon, first to an eastern region and later to the countries' common border.

President Assad spoke to the parliament in Damascus, in a rare address broadcast widely across the Middle East.

He said Syria has decided to comply with the long-standing Taif Accord and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which demands withdrawal of Syria's 14,000 troops in Lebanon.

"We will withdraw our forces in Lebanon completely to al-Beka region, and therefore [thereafter], to the Syrian-Lebanese border," said Bashar al-Assad. "And when we do that, then Syria has fulfilled its entire obligation under Taif Accord and Resolution 1559."

President Assad did not mention a timetable, and he did not clarify on which side of the border the troops would remain after the pullback. He said Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and his council are expected to ratify the plan during the coming week.

Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt calls the announcement a positive step, but he wants a timeline for withdrawal. Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel says it would not be acceptable for Syrian troops to stay within Lebanon's border.

President Bush has demanded an immediate and total Syrian withdrawal ahead of Lebanese parliamentary elections planned for May.

Among other nations calling for a Syrian pullout are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France and Britain.

Syria has been under intense pressure to get its troops and intelligence services out of Lebanon since the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The killing has set off anti-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut. President Assad denounced the assassination during Saturday's speech.