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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March, 2005, 11:16 GMT
Assad pledges Lebanon withdrawal
Syrian soldiers in the Bekaa valley
Syrian troops were first sent to Lebanon in 1976
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his troops will leave Lebanon completely "in the next few months".

He told Time magazine that withdrawal was a technical rather than a political issue, and that it would soon begin.

A leader of the Lebanese opposition welcomed the pledge, but said it needed to be more specific.

The removal of about 15,000 troops is a key demand of Western nations and Lebanese opponents who want Damascus to stop what they call "interference".

'Nice gesture'

President Assad told Time that talks about removing Syrian forces from Lebanon would be held with United Nations envoy Terji Roed-Larsen later this month.

"It [withdrawal] should be very soon and maybe in the next few months. Not after that," he said.

Military intervention begins in 1976
30,000 troops in Lebanon during 1980s, currently 15,000
Syrian forces crucial in ending the Lebanese civil war in 1990 and maintaining peace
Calls for departure of the Syrians increase gradually with Israeli withdrawal in 2000
UN resolution calling for withdrawal of all foreign forces passed in Sept 2004

The army would have to work out where to station the troops as well as examining the security situation in both Syria and Lebanon, he said in an interview.

"Security in Lebanon is much better than before. They have an army, they have a state, they have institutions," he said.

"We need to talk about our borders, because when Israel invaded in 1982, they reached that point. It was very close to Damascus. So we will need [fortifications for the troops] along the border with Lebanon."

An opposition leader in Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt, told the BBC that he wanted to hear more specifics from Damascus about any withdrawal.

"It's a nice gesture but 'next few months' is quite vague - we need a clear-cut timetable," he said on Radio 4's Today programme.

The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution last September calling for all foreign forces to leave Lebanon.

Damascus has come under increasing international pressure since the killing of Lebanon's anti-Syrian former leader Rafik Hariri and since a bomb attack in Tel Aviv which Israel has blamed on Syria.

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