The leader of Lebanon's Maronite Christian minority said Saturday he was cautiously satisfied by an apparent Syrian decision to redeploy its troops in Lebanon.
Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, a harsh critic of Syria's domination of Lebanese affairs, said he was "satisfied" by an announcement that Syria will redeploy troops from much of the country, notably the Beirut area, and concentrate them in the Bekaa valley, near the Syrian border.
The announcement was made Friday by Nabih Berri, a staunch ally of Syria and president of the Lebanese parliament, following a meeting with Cardinal Sfeir at his home.
"We can only applaud," the Maronite patriarch said Saturday. "I am satisfied."
However, he added that "we must see what happens on the ground. Everything will depend on the way in which they carry out their promise," he said.
Sfeir noted that the Syrians indicated they had already started a redeployment in April of this year, which was brought to a halt in September after the Maronite bishops conference called for a complete Syrian pullout.
"When there is a withdrawal, it should be announced officially," Sfeir said Saturday. "Otherwise the soldiers could return. Up until now, they have not announced it officially."
"It will at least be a first step if they keep their word," he said.
However, the cardinal continued to press for a complete Syrian military withdrawal from Lebanon, even if that is later rather than sooner.
But he said it is not the presence of the Syrian army that gives Syria control over Lebanon.
What is important, he said, "is that the Lebanese government is free in its decision-making, that it not be a creature of the Syrian government, that Lebanon not be subservient to Syria," he said -- BEIRUT (AFP)
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