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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April 2005, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Q&A: Syria and Lebanon
Map showing location of Israel, Syria and Lebanon with the Bekaa Valley and Golan Heights
The BBC News website looks at the key issues in Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and the Lebanese parliamentary elections.

What is the significance of Syria's withdrawal?

Syria has made good on its pledge to pull some 14,000 troops and an unknown number of intelligence agents out of Lebanon before elections which the Beirut government is promising on 29 May.

The move ends a 29-year deployment that sprang from an intervention to end the first phase of the Lebanese civil war back in 1976.

It will probably reduce the heat felt by Syria over UN Resolution 1559, which last year called for the withdrawal of non-Lebanese forces.

But it is unlikely to herald a thaw in relations with the US, which co-sponsored the resolution with France. Washington still brands Damascus a state sponsor of terrorism.

Lebanese opponents of the Syrian presence speak of the pull-back in terms of "liberation", although a sizeable number of Lebanese view Syria as a valuable friend and see 1559 as part of a US/Israeli agenda to weaken Israel's enemies.

Does it end Syria's involvement in Lebanon?

Few people believe that Syria will loosen its grip completely on Lebanon, for several reasons.

The two countries are seen by Arab nationalists as one and the same - which is why Damascus never permitted an exchange of ambassadors.

The lively Lebanese economy has been an important asset for Syria, whose own old-style socialist economic system has contributed to its isolation in the region.

Lebanon is also an important strategic ally against Israel and Syria would want to make sure it does not sign a separate peace deal as Egypt and Jordan did - seriously undermining Syria's bargaining power to regain the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in 1967.

So although Syria has abandoned its overt control of Lebanon, with troops and intelligence bureaux, it is likely to try to entrench its covert control using political patronage and behind-the-scenes alliances.

Has Lebanon solved its political crisis?

Syria's withdrawal and the pledge that Lebanese parliamentary elections will be held on schedule goes some way towards calming the situation in Lebanon.

The anti-Syrian opposition is confident it will win the 29 May vote, capitalising on a wave of revulsion following the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri on 14 February.

Many believed Syria was behind the assassination, and that the Lebanese security services, which have tended to come under Syria's sway, were involved. Syria denies any involvement, and security service officials deny any wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati - who was appointed with opposition backing - appears to be doing everything he can to heal the rifts and has undertaken not to allow constitutional or legislative obstacles to delay the vote.

The resignation of senior security officials - some of which came just ahead of the final Syrian withdrawal - is also a major opposition demand.

What is the state of Lebanese democracy?

Lebanon is complex confessional mixture which has achieved stability since the Civil War through a delicate factional and sectarian balancing act.

The 128-seat parliament is split evenly between Muslim and Christian seats, although Muslims make up a clear majority of the population.

There have been widespread accusations that constituency boundaries have been engineered to produce a majority of pro-Syrian MPs in parliament.

The government is committed to redrafting the election law before the coming poll, but it says that if time runs out it will use the existing 2000 system of 14 constituencies of varying sizes.

Analysts say that the system once favoured pro-Syrian MPs then but may now favour the anti-Syrian camp, because of the Hariri effect.

Where does Hezbollah stand in all this?

While Syria appears to have paid a heavy price from Resolution 1559, the other party in the resolution's sights - the Shia militia/political party Hezbollah, or the Party of God, has yet to suffer any fallout.

The resolution calls for the disbanding of militia groups, but Hezbollah still attracts support as a resistance movement committed to defending the country from Israel, which occupied southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000.

It has pledged to keep its weapons while Israel still poses a threat.

It hopes to do well in the coming elections - although the electoral system is heavily skewed against it.

It holds just eight seats - which hardly reflects the true level support among Shia Muslims, who are estimated to make up the largest minority in Lebanon.




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