Syria Announces Partial Withdrawal from Lebanon

(IFM) Syria will pull its forces in Lebanon back to the eastern Bekaa by the end of March according to announcements by the presidents of Syria and Lebanon, Ha’Aretz reported. However, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud delayed a decision on a complete Syrian withdrawal to a later date. Shortly after the announcement, five Syrian military trucks loaded with furniture headed east up the Lebanese mountains, marking the apparent first movement of the pullback.

Lebanon’s exiled opposition leader and former general Michel Aoun dismissed the move, calling it a "maneuvering to win time." France and Germany renewed calls for a full and complete withdrawal of Syrian troops and services as soon as possible. The United States said on Sunday that it would not stand by as Assad takes "half measures" in Lebanon, promising to step up pressure for a complete and immediate withdrawal by May elections.

Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz assessed in remarks broadcast Monday that Syria would be forced to pull its troops from Lebanon before May.

Bush Says Syria Must Pull Troops from Lebanon Now

By Paula Wolfson

President Bush’s spokesman says Syria needs to pull all its forces out of Lebanon now.

Scott McClellan says the plan announced by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese counterpart, Emile Lahoud, falls far short.

"We want to see the complete and immediate withdrawal of all Syrian military forces and all intelligence services in Lebanon," he said. "This is a half-measure that simply does not meet that objective."

Under the plan, Syrian forces will redeploy to border areas in Lebanon by the end of March, with a timetable for a full withdrawal to be determined later.

The White House spokesman says it does not meet demands set by the United Nations.

"We believe they need to focus on the Security Council resolution that was passed last year – resolution 1559 – which calls for an end to all foreign occupation of Lebanon, and which also calls for support for free and fair elections, and calls for a sovereign and independent Lebanon," he said.

Mr. McClellan spoke to reporters as protests against the Syrian presence continued in the streets of Beirut. He said the Lebanese people are showing their desire to live in freedom.

"And, we want to see the Syrian and Lebanese governments respect the will of the Lebanese people," he said. "The United States, like the rest of the international community, stands with the Lebanese people."

Syria has had troops in neighboring Lebanon since 1976, when they were sent in during that country’s civil war. They remained when the war ended.

Pressure has grown in recent weeks for a complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He was killed in a car bombing last month in central Beirut.

For the President’s Radio Address on the Syria and Lebanon Issue Click Here