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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Syria withdraws troops from Beirut
Lebanese army troops take over an outpost vacated by Syrian soldiers
The Syrian troops were invited into Lebanon in 1976
Syrian troops have almost concluded their evacuation of Beirut after 25 years in the Lebanese capital.

They have been a constant military presence since the outbreak of Lebanon's long civil war.


At this point we are watching the situation closely

US State Department spokesman
The withdrawal from the Lebanese capital follows repeated Lebanese Christian demands for an end to Syria's dominance of their country.

The partial pull-out sharply reduces Syria's military profile in Lebanon, but it does not mean Syria is about to quit the country.

Many of the departing troops have moved east to join thousands of troops remaining along strategic roads and the Mediterranean coast.

Hopes

But however limited, the redeployment is something that many Lebanese had been hoping for since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

"I hope the redeployment is a prelude to a change in Syria's behaviour in Lebanon," said Gebran Tueni, publisher of Beirut's leading An-Nahar newspaper.

Syrian troops on their way to the Bekaa Valley
Troops are now regrouping in the Bekaa valley
"I hope that they understand that Lebanon is an independent country and that we want to deal them as real allies, not agents," he added.

Meanwhile, the United States said it would closely follow the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Beirut.

"At this point we are watching the situation closely," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"We've seen ongoing but incomplete redeployments," he added.

There had been total silence in Syria on the redeployment until Azmi Bishara, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset who is visiting Syria, was interviewed by Lebanese television on Sunday.

Mr Bishara said President Bashar al-Assad told him: "There is a civil society with particular characteristics in Lebanon, and Syria has to organize its relations with Lebanon in this light."

'Defensive measure'

While some analysts said the pull-out from Beirut was a response to increased Christian demands, others insisted it was also a defensive measure after repeated Israeli threats against Syrian forces in Lebanon.

Jnah district south of Beirut
The pull-out is something many Lebanese had been hoping for
The Syrians were invited into Lebanon in 1976 by then-president Suleiman Franjieh, as part of an Arab peacekeeping force to quell a civil war.

Syria stayed on as a power broker after the civil war ended, maintaining 35,000 troops in the country.

Under the Taif Accord that ended the 1975-1990 civil war, the troops were supposed to have redeployed from Beirut to the Bekaa Valley in the early 1990s.

The Syrian troops are but one of the many faces of Syria's domination of its smaller neighbour - and perhaps the most superficial.

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See also:

14 Jun 01 | Middle East
Syria begins Lebanon pull-back
25 May 01 | Middle East
Lebanon remembers Israel's withdrawal
12 Jan 01 | Middle East
Lebanon buries highest Shia cleric
20 Jul 00 | Middle East
Syrians end mourning for Assad
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