Remaining Syrian Troops to Leave Beirut in 48 Hours
Syria will pull all its troops out of Beirut within the next 48 hours, Lebanese security sources said on Sunday.
Syria has been shifting troops out of at least 12 major bases and several other smaller positions since Thursday, in an apparent concession to a bitter Christian-led campaign against Damascus' domination of its smaller neighbor.
It was not clear that the redeployment would mean a net reduction in Syria's 35,000-strong troop presence in Lebanon, which dates back to near the beginning of the country's 1975-1990 civil war.
Some Syrian troops are to be shifted to positions in the western Bekaa valley, the sources said, quoted by Reuters.
Around 100 Syrian soldiers and 15 tanks that had been stationed in Lebanon crossed the border into Syria before dawn Saturday.
"Some 15 tank transports and around 100 soldiers aboard military trucks crossed over at dawn," a policeman said.
The troops were among forces that have been withdrawn over the past three days from Beirut and surrounding, mainly Christian-populated areas in a redeployment demanded for months by Lebanese Christian and other opposition leaders.
Other units that had been pulled out were still bivouacked in the eastern Bekaa valley, where Syrian troops have been stationed since a year after the 1976 outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, which ended in 1990.
A Lebanese official, who asked not to be identified, told AFP that "a number of (military) positions" had been abandoned and "significant materiel" withdrawn overnight.
Officials said the move was in line with the 1989 Taef agreement, which ended the civil war.
The agreement stipulated that Syrian troops based in the country since the mid-1970s be pulled back to the Bekaa valley within two years after the introduction of Lebanon's new constitution, which occurred in 1990.
Opponents of the Syrian presence in Lebanon have stepped up calls this year for the troops to be redeployed, following the end of the 22-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in May 2000.
Meanwhile, several Lebanese officials and MPs voiced their satisfaction for the redeployment, according to the Daily Star newspaper.
MP Fares Soueid said the redeployment had been anticipated by Speaker Nabih Berri as far back as last October.
"At the time, there were internal and external obstacles, but these have now been removed," said Soueid. "This step is the beginning of a very long journey, and it is a follow-up to calls for a dialogue first made by (Maronite) bishops on September 20."
Another MP, Nazem Khoury, said the Syrian redeployment was a "positive step demonstrating good will."
He expressed hope the move would serve as a "prelude to dialogue" within and between the two countries, according to the paper.
Khoury called for "re-evaluating" the relationship between Beirut and Damascus, saying that "all outstanding issues can be discussed in stages."
Well-known businessman Robert Boulos also described the troop move as "an important step."
"It is also within the framework of dialogue which is being undertaken by President Emile Lahoud and the patriarch to achieve Lebanese-Syrian consensus," he said.
MP Nayla Mouawad said the move was met with "great satisfaction by all Lebanese keen to establish the best relations of brotherhood between the two countries."
She said she hoped the operation would continue in accordance with the Taif Accord.
Sheikh Khalil Mais, mufti of the Bekaa and Zahle, described the redeployment as a "very wise step" taken by the leaders of both countries, the paper quoted him as saying.
Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, vice-president of the Higher Shiite Council, said during Friday prayers that the move was agreed upon by both Lahoud and Assad.
"We would have wished voices which used to call for redeployment had kept silent," he said.
"Our Syrian friend and ally must not be treated similarly to the occupying enemy."
However, he added that he wished the Syrians would not redeploy at the present time "as Israel is still threatening Syria and Lebanon and repressing the Palestinian people."
Qabalan called on Damascus to "take its time and be not hasty, as the Lebanese people still need the Syrian Army to safeguard their security and stability, liberate the Shabaa Farms and seek the release of prisoners" in Israel - Albawaba.com
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