Official: Syria Troops Out of Lebanon Soon
By Associated Press
February 21, 2005, 9:39 AM EST
DAMASCUS, Syria -- The Arab League chief said Monday
that Syria will "soon" take steps to withdraw its army
from Lebanese areas in accordance with a 1989
The announcement by Arab League Secretary-General Amr
Moussa came after a meeting with Syrian President
"Assad stressed more than once his firm determination
to go on with implementing the Taif agreement and
achieve Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in accordance
with this agreement," Moussa said.
"Syrian withdrawal is part of Syrian policy and will
see steps in this direction very soon," Moussa quoted
Assad as saying.
The 1989 agreement signed in Taif, Saudi Arabia, ended
the civil war that had started in 1975. Among other
things, it called for Syrian forces, which had entered
Lebanon ostensibly to separate the warring sides, to
withdraw within two years to the eastern Bekaa Valley
near the Syrian border.
In Beirut, tens of thousands of opposition supporters
shouted insults at Syria and demanded the resignation
of their pro-Syrian government in a demonstration
Monday, marking a week since the assassination of
former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Beating drums and waving Lebanese flags, those of
their own parties and portraits of past leaders killed
during the 1975-90 civil war, the protesters gathered
at the site where Hariri was killed Feb. 14 in a
bombing that the opposition blames on Damascus.
Some in the crowd yelled "Syria out!" and "We don't
want a parliament that acts as a doorkeeper for the
Syrians," competing with loud insults shouted against
Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Protesters wore scarves of red and white -- the colors
of Lebanon's flag -- which have become the symbol of
the opposition's "independence uprising," described as
a peaceful campaign to dislodge the pro-Syrian
government and force the Syrian army out of Lebanon.
Some protesters carried banners reading,
"Independence," and chanted, "The government of
puppets must fall" and "Enough blood, leave us alone."
The crowd was estimated in the tens of thousands, with
many converging on downtown Beirut from all parts of
the Lebanese capital.
"It is my civic duty as a Lebanese to take part in
this uprising," said Youssef Mukhtar, a 47-year-old
engineer. "Enough bloodshed and disasters. It is the
21st century, and people should be able to govern
themselves. The situation has become unbearable and we
have to regain our country."
Many held pictures of Hariri and sang patriotic songs.
Some protesters held a copy of the Quran in one hand
and the cross in another hand to signify
Muslim-Christian national unity.
Police and army troops in full battle gear stood guard
without intervening, blocking roads with metal
barriers. To prevent more potential protesters from
reaching Beirut, security forces set up checkpoints on
the northern and eastern entrances to the Lebanese
The protest reached its peak shortly before 12:55
p.m., the time that Hariri's motorcade was blown up,
killing him and 16 other people and wounding more than
100. The protesters, chanting "All for the Nation,"
the national anthem, observed a moment of silence at
the exact time of the bombing and then began
converging on the U.N. offices in the downtown Riad
Solh Square to hand a letter to representatives of
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
On the way, the protesters marched by the nearby Grand
Serail, the prime minister's office, shouting "Syria
out!" and "We don't want an army in Lebanon except
that of Lebanon!"
The protesters then marched to Hariri's grave outside
the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque at the central Martyrs'
Square and sang the national anthem. "We want the
truth," said one speaker.
On Sunday, Lebanon said it would cooperate with U.N.
investigators looking into the assassinations, but
stuck to its rejection of a full-fledged international
At the same time the Beirut protest was making its way
to the grave, about 500 Lebanese in Kuwait gathered
near their country's embassy, where they stood for a
moment's silence in front of a large poster of Hariri.
"What we want is an international committee to uncover
the truth," said Marwan Jamal, a business consultant,
39. "Nobody should think we are divided."
Hariri's killing shook Lebanon and sparked an
outpouring of sympathy for the man credited with
rebuilding the country from the destruction of civil
war, cutting across the sectarian divide.
Hariri was one of the architects of the 1989 Taif
agreement that ended Lebanon's civil war, which
started in 1975. It called for Syrian forces -- which
had entered Lebanon ostensibly to separate between the
warring sides -- to withdraw within two years to the
eastern Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border. A total
withdrawal was to be discussed between the Lebanese
and Syrian governments at a later stage.
Syrian forces have redeployed several times since
2000, leaving Beirut and the coastline. Syria
currently maintains about 15,000 troops in Lebanon.
Syria's critics in Lebanon have said the withdrawals
were tactical and demanded a total pullout and an end
to Syrian military intelligence involvement in the
Associated Press reporters Zeina Karam and Bassem
Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.