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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Press caution over Syria Lebanon move

Newspapers in the Arab world and Israel have reacted with caution to Syria's decision to redeploy some of its troops in Lebanon away from the capital Beirut.

In Israel, commentators are distrustful of Syrian intentions, with one suggesting the exercise is part of a plan to "con" US President George W Bush.

Some Arab commentators feel the move will help remove one pretext for a US or Israeli attack on Syria, although there is unease that Damascus might be bowing to Western pressure.

Writing in Lebanon's Al-Safir, Sami Kalib asks: "Is Syria's redeployment the beginning of a Syrian-US deal?"

The redeployment should have coincided with an Israeli withdrawal from the Shabaa farms region
Saudi Arabia's Al-Jazirah

"What Washington is asking Syria entails much more than just the Lebanese problem," he believes.

An editorial in the United Arab Emirates paper Akhbar al-Arab argues that "Syria gains by withdrawing form Lebanon."

"Damascus will score a number of points by implementing the Security Council resolution. One of them is restoring its healthy ties with Lebanon, which is the most important thing."

"Secondly, it will prevent Israel and the US finding justifications to attack it."

'Former taboo'

But Saudi Arabia's Al-Jazirah is indignant. "Syria is not occupying Lebanon!", reads the headline of an editorial, which feels that Israel should have matched the move.

"Syria has decided to redeploy its forces in Lebanon, an issue which used to be taboo. The initiative came in the wake of international and Lebanese pressure."

"However, the redeployment should have coincided with an Israeli withdrawal from the Shabaa farms region [of Lebanon, adjoining the Golan Heights]," Al-Jazirah argues.

President Assad can allow himself to reduce the number of his soldiers and officers in order to con President Bush
Commentator in Yediot Aharonot

"Syria needs Lebanon," believes the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat. "But more importantly, it needs rational people who can protect its ties with Lebanon, as well as its international image."

In Israel, a commentator in the leading daily Yediot Aharonot sees the Syrian move as a cynical ploy "aimed mainly at easing US pressure".

"President Assad can allow himself to reduce the number of his soldiers and officers in order to con President Bush."

A Ha'aretz editorial says "it is possible to get the impression that Damascus has made a decision to end its military presence in Lebanon. That impression is premature".

"The Syrian decision does not go so far, is not irreversible, and there is no certainty... Syria is not relinquishing control over Lebanon. It is seeking other measures, hidden from the eye, to continue maintaining control."

"Even if the Syrian army is ostensibly on its way out of Lebanon, it is only the beginning of a very long road ahead," Ha'aretz concludes

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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