Syrian Army Pulls Out of Christian Area in North Lebanon
Syria has pulled its soldiers out of positions in the predominantly Christian region of Bshaireh in northern Lebanon, where they had been posted for years, a Lebanese security source said Friday.
"The Syrian army withdrew Thursday from the village of Hadet Ej-Jibbeh (about 20 kilometers, 12 miles, east of Tripoli) without redeploying elsewhere in the same region," the source said.
Syrian troops are now present in only one spot in the region: a building housing intelligence agents in the village of Bshaireh, eight kilometers (five miles) from Hadet Ej-Jibbeh.
Bshaireh is the birthplace of Samir Geagea, the head of the outlawed hardline Christian militia the Lebanese Forces, who has been in prison since 1994.
Syria has quietly dismantled at least four other positions or posts in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon over the past 10 days, security sources said Thursday.
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said that Syria stopped an army redeployment it began in September so that it "would not be seen as having been done under pressure, as some Lebanese factions had been calling for it," the Beirut newspaper An-Nahar said Friday.
Members of the Lebanese Forces demonstrated twice in September calling for an end to Syria's influence over Lebanon. The same month the conference of Maronite bishops called for the Syria's 35,000 troops to be withdrawn from the country.
Last week Druze community leader Walid Jumblatt demanded that Syrian troops, first deployed at the start of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, be withdrawn, comments that angered Damascus to the point it declared Jumblatt and his political allies undesirables in Syria.
But Lahoud told AFP on Friday that the Syrian army would remain in Lebanon so long as Israel occupies the disputed Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms and until "Palestinians living on (Lebanese) soil be granted the right to return home."
"We are still in a state of war with Israel, despite the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May," Lahoud said.
The last major Syrian movement in Lebanon was in April, when the army removed some 16 checkpoints and positions in Beirut and other regions in southern and eastern Lebanon, days after Israel announced an army pullout from southern Lebanon that was completed May 24 -- TRIPOLI (AFP)
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