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Syrian troops in Lebanon withdraw
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-08 01:44

DAMASCUS: Syrian forces will pull back to eastern areas of Lebanon this month and Damascus and Beirut will then decide how long the troops stay, the leaders of the two countries agreed yesterday.

Following anti-Syrian protests in Beirut, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Saturday he would withdraw his troops but said Damascus would still play a role in its smaller neighbour.

Assad met his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud in Damascus yesterday and a statement later said they had agreed on the two-phase withdrawal plan.

The plan set no timetable for a full withdrawal. The United States has demanded an immediate departure of Syrian troops and intelligence agents.

France and Germany jointly urged Syria yesterday to get its forces out of Lebanon as soon as possible.

"We expect Syria to withdraw its troops and security services completely and as quickly as possible," the two countries said in a joint declaration at a summit between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Jacques Chirac.

Even while Assad and Lahoud were meeting, Syrian soldiers based in the Lebanese mountain towns of Mdairij, Soufar and Aley were dismantling communications equipment or loading personal belongings and military gear on military trucks, witnesses said.

Lebanese army soldiers in trucks waited near a Syrian military post at Dahr al-Wahsh east of Beirut as the Syrian troops prepared to leave, the witnesses said.

Assad and Lahoud said they respected all UN Security Council resolutions, including one demanding that Syria quit Lebanon, as well as the Taif Accord, which ended Lebanon's civil war and which envisaged a Syrian pullout from most parts of the country.

"The two sides affirmed their commitment to the Taif Accord and its mechanism ... and their respect to all resolutions issued by the international legitimacy including Resolution 1559," their statement said.

Syria has previously said compliance with the Taif Accord amounts to fulfilling the UN resolution.

The United States has been skeptical of Assad's plans.

But Lebanon's most powerful and only armed party, Hezbollah, called for peaceful protests today in support of Syria and warned of mayhem if Syrian troops were to leave.

"The aim of America and Israel is to spread chaos in Lebanon and ... to find excuses for foreign intervention," Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah told a news conference yesterday.

Thousands of Lebanese flag-waving protesters again took over central Beirut's Martyrs Square. chanting "Freedom, sovereignty, independence" and demanding Syria quit Lebanon completely.

(China Daily 03/08/2005 page1)

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