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The BBC's Alix Kroeger
"If there's no agreement then Israel will leave anyway"
 real 28k

Monday, 3 April, 2000, 00:47 GMT 01:47 UK
Syria dismisses Lebanon troop idea
Funeral for a soldier killed in southern Lebanon
Israel has suffered a high number of casualties in Lebanon
The Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouq al-Shara, has distanced himself from a suggestion that Syrian troops could be deployed in southern Lebanon following an Israeli withdrawal from the area.

The possibility was raised by the Lebanese Defence Minister, Ghazi Zaiter, although he later said that his comments had been taken out of context.

Mr Shara said on Sunday that such statements could have negative repercussions.
Hezbollah fighters
Hezbollah has been fighting to end Israel's occupation of Lebanon
He said Syria would consider its position when the time came.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has promised to withdraw Israeli troops from southern Lebanon by July with or without a peace agreement with Syria, which is the main power broker in Lebanon.

Israeli officials have also played down the Lebanese defence minister's remarks.

Mr Barak told his cabinet that he did not think such a redeployment would be practical for the Syrians and that they were unlikely to go through with it.

Comprehensive peace

Mr Barak's office quoted him as saying that Mr Zaiter's remarks reflected Lebanese distress over the impending pull-out.

The Israeli prime minister said Israel would still prefer to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with Damascus, which has some 35,000 troops stationed across two-thirds of Lebanon, and Beirut before a withdrawal.

Mr Zaiter, speaking at a cultural event in the Nabatiyeh area close to Israel's self-declared security zone on Friday, said the potential for having Syrian troops stationed in the south was "one of our best bargaining chips".

President Assad
Talks between President Assad and President Clinton failed to break the Israeli-Syrian deadlock
Talks between Syria and Israel broke down in January over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

US President Bill Clinton and Syrian President Hafez al-Assad failed in a summit in Geneva on 26 March to reach an agreement under which Syrian-Israeli peace talks could resume.

Israel has launched a campaign to get the international community to deploy a peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli Government is anxious that the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, might target northern Israel after a pull-out.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy is expected to bring up the issue when he meets with UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, possibly in the next few days.

In talks with US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk last week, Mr Levy said he was strongly in favour of deploying French or UN peacekeepers.

But Lebanon has ruled out any hope of a multinational force entering Lebanon if Israel withdraws unilaterally.

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See also:

07 Mar 00 | Mideast Peace Process
Waiting for the thaw
05 Jan 00 | Middle East
The Golan: Territory and security
23 Jul 99 | Middle East
President Assad: Master tactician
16 Mar 00 | Middle East
Syria: Peace talks to resume soon
09 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Water wars and peace
10 Jan 00 | Middle East
Washington's push for peace
26 Mar 00 | Middle East
No breakthrough on Mid-East talks
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