Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said Sunday that Syria's redeployment away from Beirut was a positive move, and that he hoped Lebanese and Syrian officials would work to ensure the interests of both countries, said the Daily Star newspaper.
Lebanese security sources said Sunday that Syria would pull all its troops out of Beirut within the next 48 hours.
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.
“The prayers and sacrifices that were offered on the occasion of Saint Rafqa’s canonization must have worked on the officials, inspiring them to carry out the Syrian redeployment,” Sfeir said during a sermon.
“We hope that top officials in both Lebanon and Syria will follow up on this step, reaching a point that guarantees the interests of both countries, and establish friendly relations that allow both of them dignity,” Sfeir said.
A day earlier, Lebanon’s Energy and Water Minister Mohammed Abdel-Hamid Beydoun said the redeployment had started over a year ago, “as a result of an agreement between the Lebanese Army and the commanders of the Syrian troops in Lebanon.”
Beydoun said that “nobody in Lebanon wants the issue of Syrian redeployment to turn into a political football. Everyone in Lebanon wants such an operation to serve Lebanon’s security along with bilateral relations between Lebanon and Syria.”
The minister stressed that “the message behind the redeployment is that everyone in Lebanon should understand that the Lebanese cannot remain divided over the issue of the presence of the Syrian forces in Lebanon, or any other issue.”
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 – Albawaba.com
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