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Crowds joyful as Lebanese Army mans Syrian posts

Bush calls redeployment a 'half measure' and presses for full withdrawal before may elections

By Leila Hatoum/Daily Star staff/Thursday, March 10, 2005

Posted on March 10, 2005 at 2:20 pm

Retrieved from

BEIRUT: Overjoyed residents welcomed incoming Lebanese regiments with flower petals and chants of support as the troops manned the abandoned Syrian posts in the northern town of Batroun Wednesday. The crowds that gathered near the posts chanted: "We don't want an army in Lebanon except for the Lebanese Army, and we want the Syrians to be sacked out by the Lebanese elite army forces."

For many, the sight of Lebanese troops occupying positions held by Syrian troops for 30 years was an emotional experience.

While celebrations continued in Batroun, Syrian soldiers were dismantling positions and offices on mountains near Beirut and in Northern Lebanon in preparation to withdraw to the Bekaa Valley as a first step, prior to a withdrawal to the Syrian side of the border.

Eyewitnesses reported that a steady stream of military trucks was headed from the North to the Bekaa in eastern Lebanon in a much-awaited pullback.

Mount Lebanon also witnessed redeployment activity with Syrian soldiers spotted at midday removing their equipment from their camps in Aley and loading trucks in preparation for their relocation.

Continuous international pressure, mainly from the U.S. and France, over Syria's military and political hegemony over Lebanon was met with a pledge from President Bashar Assad to redeploy its 14,000 troops to the Bekaa by March 31, and then to the Syrian border at a date yet to be determined.

The failure by Assad last week, as well as by the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council on Monday, to mention a specific timetable for full withdrawal has drawn further criticism from the international community and the Lebanese opposition.

On Wednesday, U.S. President George W. Bush called the Syrian redeployment a "half measure," and restated that Syria should withdraw from Lebanon before Lebanon's May parliamentary elections.

He added that UN Resolution 1559 "requires complete removal," a reference to Syria's intelligence services.

Both Bush and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac said earlier in the week that they wanted to see "actions" from the Syrians and "not words."

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is scheduled to visit Damascus Thursday to ask for a date for the full withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustafa, in comments Tuesday said all Syrian troops would be out of Lebanon by May, and that Bush should worry about other Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese territories occupied by Israel.