Monday, March 7, 2005

Syria set to begin troop pull-back

Lebanese officials say Syria will start redeploying its troops to the east of Lebanon today in the first part of a two-phase withdrawal.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced the withdrawal plans on Saturday.

He has been under pressure to act on a UN Security Council resolution for all foreign troops to leave Lebanon.

The pressure has mounted since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri last month.

Lebanese Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Mrad has said the pullback will start immediately after a meeting in Damascus between leaders of both countries to approve Mr Assad's plan.

While Lebanese opposition supporters are overjoyed at the announcement, the United States remains sceptical.

Speaking on US television, the White House director of communications, Dan Bartlett, said the US would maintain pressure on Syria.

He described the offer made by Mr Assad as "half-hearted".

Pro-Syrian groups such as Hezbollah are not impressed by Mr Assad's announcement.

Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has called for public protests against the withdrawal.

"President Bashar al-Assad and Syria, which is a UN member state, have the right to respect this international resolution," he said.

"But we as Lebanese parties and popular forces meeting today also have the right to reject this international resolution because it constitutes a flagrant interference in our internal affairs."

By Just Us 7 March 05


Hariri's death sparks political backlash
Lebanon's Damascus-backed leaders face a massive public backlash and international pressure to find the killers of former premier Rafiq Hariri as mourners unite in blaming Syria for his murder.