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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 21:58 GMT
Saudi ruler urges Syrian pullout
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (l) with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
Saudi Arabia says a Syrian pullout would ease international pressure
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah has advised Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon "rapidly", a Saudi official has said.

The prince said withdrawal would ease the international pressure on Syria and help defuse the Lebanese crisis.

He made the call on Thursday during a visit by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the kingdom for talks.

Syria invaded Lebanon in the 1975-90 civil war, but the troops stayed long after their mandate ended.

"Prince Abdullah advised President Assad to withdraw rapidly from Lebanon and to announce a timetable for the pullout to contain the Lebanese crisis and the international pressure on Syria," said a Saudi official.

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

"He added that Arab governments cannot resist this pressure unless Syrian troops are withdrawn."

In September 2004, Syria was ordered by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 to pull out from its smaller neighbour once and for all.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal discussed Syria at a meeting on Thursday.

"There must be a way to marry the Taif agreement with the provisions of 1559, keeping in mind the Syrian declaration of 21 February, flagging their intention to withdraw from Lebanon," Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad told reporters.

US allies

The 1989 accord that ended the civil war - which was signed in the Saudi city of Taif - stipulated that Syrian troops should pull back within two years, as a prelude to full withdrawal from Lebanon.

Mr Awad said the aim of Egyptian efforts was to help Syria cope with pressure for the implementation of the UN resolution, while meeting Lebanese unity and its wishes for independence.

Protest in Beirut
Lebanese protests against Syria have been going on for weeks

Washington has spearheaded pressure on Syria to get it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Mr Assad told Time magazine in an interview published this week that he might withdraw troops in a few months.

Arab foreign ministers in Cairo have meanwhile urged Damascus to stick to its long-running commitment to withdraw from Lebanon.

"We have to contain, with all our capabilities, the existing big problems and to shift the current situation into a safer position," said Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa.

The Syrian and Lebanese foreign ministers did not attend the Cairo meeting.

Russia - Syria's main ally during the Cold War - and Germany have become the latest voices to call for Syria to leave Lebanon.

"Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, but we all have to make sure that this withdrawal does not violate the very fragile balance which we still have in Lebanon, which is a very difficult country ethnically," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the BBC.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Mr Assad is feeling heat over the issue, while his regime's viability might even be questioned in Damascus if he "lost" Lebanon.

Pressure on Damascus spiked after the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last month, who supported Syrian withdrawal. Syria has denied any part in his killing.

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