Mdeirej, Lebanon — Syrian soldiers loaded trucks with furniture and other supplies and drove east from the Lebanese mountain posts they have held for decades, the first signs of a redeployment to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley announced Monday. But no deadline was set for their complete withdrawal, and Washington rejected the pullback as insufficient.
Lacking a timeline, the plan also was unlikely to satisfy the Lebanese opposition and the international community, which have demanded that all 14,000 Syrian soldiers leave.
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Lebanese counterpart, Emile Lahoud, met in Syria's capital, Damascus, to outline plans for shifting Syrian troops closer to the border by the end of March. But they were vague on the timing of a complete withdrawal from Lebanon.
Syria has had troops here since 1976, when they were sent as peacekeepers during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. When the war ended, the troops remained.
Washington wants a full withdrawal of Syrian soldiers and intelligence agents before Lebanese parliamentary elections expected in April and May.
Assad and Lahoud said Syrian troops will first pull back from northern and central Lebanon to the east, near Syria's border. Then, military officers from both countries will have a month to decide how many Syrian troops should stay.
After a negotiated time frame, the two governments will "agree to complete the withdrawal of the remaining forces," the announcement said.
|More than 70,000 Lebanese shouting "Freedom! Sovereignty! Independence!" thronged Beirut in the biggest demonstration yet of anti-Syria anger that has fueled recent street protests.The demonstrators marched to the site of a Feb. 14 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and touched off the angry but peaceful street protests that drove Lebanon's pro-Syrian government to resign a week ago. Many Lebanese accuse the Syrian government and their former government of responsibility for Hariri's death; both deny any involvement.|