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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Analysis: Syria under international scrutiny

By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Lebanese officials have criticised a resolution passed by the UN Security Council calling on all foreign forces to leave the country - a clear reference to the 17,000 Syrian troops there.

Syrian soldiers guard a radar station in the Bekaa Valley
Syrian forces have been in Lebanon since 1976
The resolution - sponsored by the United States and France - was passed by nine votes with six abstentions.

At issue is whether Lebanon's pro-Syrian President, Emile Lahoud, should remain in office when his term expires in November.

The Lebanese parliament is to vote on the matter on Friday.

Tiny country

Whether the president of a tiny country should stay in office for another three years is not normally a matter for big international concern.

But what has annoyed and troubled a number of countries in this case is that Syria's interference in the affairs of its Lebanese neighbour has been so blatant.

The Syrian government feels comfortable with Emile Lahoud, who has been Lebanon's Christian president for the last six years - and wants the constitution amended to extend his term.

Although the issue has angered many Lebanese, the cabinet has already agreed - and the parliament is expected to do likewise.

Syria under scrutiny

So in that sense Thursday's UN resolution is largely symbolic.

And the Syrians will take some comfort from the fact that it was passed with only the barest majority.

But the real meaning of the vote will not escape them. It's the latest salvo in the war of words between Washington and Damascus.

The Bush administration accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorism, developing weapons of mass destruction and letting Islamic militants enter Iraq from its territory.

In short, it regards Syria as a rogue state - and is putting it on notice that its behaviour is under international scrutiny.

Moreover on this occasion Syria's traditional friend - France - has chosen to side with the United States in signalling that the denial of Lebanon's sovereignty will not be accepted indefinitely.

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