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The BBC's Barbara Plett
"Most Lebanese doubt Syria will ever leave"
 real 28k

Thursday, 14 June, 2001, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Syria begins Lebanon pull-back
Syrian forces
The withdrawal is expected to take several days
Syrian forces have started withdrawing from areas of the Lebanese capital Beirut following a pledge from Damascus to "redeploy" some of its 35,000 strong force in the country.

Witnesses reported dozens of large military transport vehicles carrying tanks and other equipment on the main road between Beirut and Damascus, moving towards the Syrian border.

Army units of the brotherly Syrian forces will carry out redeployment in the coming few days

Lebanese army statement
An earlier Lebanese army statement said Syrian troops will move out of mainly Christian regions of the city, including the sites of the defence ministry and presidential palace, over the next few days.

It was not immediately clear how far the troops would be moved.

Opponents of the troops' presence, especially Christian Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, have led a mounting campaign to end Syria's hold over the country.

Civil war hangover

Syria's deployment in Lebanon is a hangover from its involvement in the country's civil war.

Under the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, Syrian troops should have pulled back from Beirut to the high mountains of central Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley in 1992, as a prelude to complete withdrawal.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syria's new president Bashar al-Assad

Calls for Syria to begin removing its forces have won wider backing since Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon last year.

The United Nations resolution which Israel said it was following calls for the withdrawal of "all foreign forces" from Lebanon.

The death last year of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, the man who ordered troops into Beirut, may have speeded up the withdrawal now his son, Bashar, has taken charge.

Syria's influence

Pro-Syrian politicians in Beirut have argued the troops were still needed to maintain stability.

They say that even if military ties are loosened, Syria's economic and cultural influence in Lebanon will continue.

But opponents, including former Syrian ally and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, have called for more equal relations between the two countries.

Nasrallah Sfeir, the highest Christian leader in Lebanon, says Syria's control over Lebanon has left the country without the freedom to make its own decisions, causing it to fade from the international arena.

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See also:

25 May 01 | Middle East
Lebanon remembers Israel's withdrawal
12 Jan 01 | Middle East
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20 Jul 00 | Middle East
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