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Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 12:18 GMT
Syria's Assad visits Beirut
Syrian forces
Syria has thousands of troops in Lebanon
Syria's President Bashar Assad has been holding talks with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis during an historic visit to Beirut.

Cannons fired a 21-gun salute as Mr Lahoud and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri welcomed Mr Assad at Beirut International Airport.

Anti-Syrian protesters with placard showing a Syrian lion (Arabic: al-Assad) being kicked out of Lebanon
Not everyone is happy to see the Syrian president
Mr Assad's visit - the first by a Syrian president to Beirut since 1947 - comes ahead of an Arab summit meeting there on 27-28 March.

The two leaders were expected to coordinate their countries' positions ahead of the summit, at which a Saudi proposal for peace in the Middle East may be formally submitted.

Syria is the key power broker in Lebanon, keeping more than 20,000 troops there.

It says the military presence is needed to keep the peace between factions that fought in the 1975-90 civil war.

Both countries have refused to make peace with Israel, but have agreed to keep their tracks linked in any talks.

After Israeli forces withdrew from south Lebanon in May 2000, Lebanese Christian opposition groups pressed for a Syrian pullout.

Strategic choice

In June 2001, Syrian troops unexpectedly withdrew from Beirut, moving to bases inland.

Syrian President Bashar Assad
This is Bashar Assad's first visit to Lebanon as Syria's president
President Lahoud and Mr Hariri have defended their nation's close relationship with Syria as a "strategic choice".

President Assad's visit is his first to Lebanon since he succeeded his late father, Hafez Assad, in June 2000 and the third ever by a Syrian leader.

His father visited the border town of Shtaura in 1975 and former Syrian president Shukri Kuwatli travelled to Beirut in 1947.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is to hold talks with US President George W Bush in Washington on Tuesday.

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
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Lebanon
26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Syria
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