Syria and Lebanon have decided to hold summit talks in Damascus Monday to finalize the mechanism of a two-stage troop withdrawal from Lebanon pledged by the Syrian president on Saturday. But the United States and France said the planned pullback was "insufficient."
Following the summit on Monday, Syria will start pulling back its forces in Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley, Lebanese Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Mrad said on Sunday. "The withdrawal starts tomorrow," Mrad told Reuters, adding that forces would retreat from northern Lebanon and Mount Lebanon in accordance with the Taif Accord that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.
Announcement of the summit and the expected withdrawal came as Lebanese army commando units deployed in Beirut Sunday to prevent potential street clashes between Syrian loyalists and opposition activists.
Several Lebanese opposition leaders were suspicious about the full pullout, but Syria's Immigrants Minister Botheina Shaaban told CNN that the Syrians would withdraw into the Syrian side of the border.
Some press reports suggested that Assad planned to withdraw 12,000 troops out of Lebanon altogether before the Arab summit conference in Algiers March 23, leaving between 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers in the Bekaa Valley in the first stage.
On its paer, Washington has criticized Syria's announcement that it will withdraw its forces in Lebanon in a two-step process, saying the troops "must withdraw completely and immediately." A statement from the U.S. State Department said the redeployment falls short and Syrian troops must leave at once.