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Thousands More Syrian Soldiers Withdraw From Lebanon - 2003-07-15

Syrian troops in Lebanon are on the move back to Syria. It's part of a phased withdrawal by Syria, which has had troops in Lebanon since 1976.

The withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon continued Tuesday as part of a planned removal of thousands more Syrian soldiers.

Witnesses report seeing trucks carrying Syrian tanks and soldiers drive away from their positions south of Lebanon's port city of Tripoli. The convoy headed north toward the Syrian border.

Tuesday's troop withdrawal follows a similar redeployment of Syrian soldiers that began Monday near the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976, a year after Lebanon's 15-year civil war began, and have remained in the country ever since.

But while their continued presence in Lebanon has caused tensions between the two countries, the latest troop issue may no longer be as important as it was in the past.

According to Sami Baroudi, who heads the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut, while the latest troop withdrawal will heighten Lebanese pride, he says citizens are much more concerned about other pressing social issues.

"I think people currently are more concerned with problems with the banking sector, with unemployment and are not as focused on the question of Syrian presence anymore," explained Mr. Baroudi. "The question of economic and social issues is taking precedence over sovereignty concerns. But, every time something like that happens it makes people feel more confident about their country and not worried."

There are now approximately 15,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon, down from about 35,000 three years ago. Lebanese newspapers have reported that all Syrian troops could be withdrawn from Lebanon by next year.