Syria, Lebanon agree on partial withdrawal by the end of March
The presidents of Syria and Lebanon announced Monday that Syrian forces would pull back to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley by March 31, but a full troop withdrawal will be deferred until later negotiations.
The announcement, made after a summit between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, said Syrian troops will pull back from northern and central Lebanon to the east, near Syria's border. The Syrian forces will move to the Bekaa region and the entrance of the western Bekaa in Dahr al-Baidar until Hamman- Mudeirej-Ein Dara.
Then, military officials from both sides will decide within a month how many Syrian troops will remain in the Bekaa Valley and how long they will stay there.
After a negotiated timeframe, the two governments will "agree to complete the withdrawal of the remaining forces," the statement said.
During Monday's meeting, Lahoud thanked Assad for Syria's role in helping prevent Lebanon's partition after the civil war and expressed "appreciation for the sacrifices made by the Syrian army in Lebanon," Lebanese presidential spokesman Rafik Shalala said, according to The AP.
Lahoud stressed "the unity of the Lebanese-Syrian position in confronting the challenges" and on continuing cooperation, Shalala said.
Shortly after the announcement was made in Damascus, Syrian military trucks loaded with furniture headed east up the Lebanese mountains.
In Washington, the United States reacted warily to the Syrian move, demanding that damascus withdraw its forces "completely and immediately."