Lebanese groups reject Syria pullback

Lebanese movements loyal to Damascus, such as Hizb Allah, have rejected international calls for an immediate and full withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.

    Hasan Nasr Allah's Hizb Allah is supported by Syria and Iran

    Hizb Allah chief Shaikh Hasan Nasr Allah said on Sunday that the groups will demonstrate in Beirut on 8 March to denounce foreign interventions and to express gratitude to Syria.

    He invited opposition groups - which have staged protests to demand a Syrian pullout since the 14 February assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri - to join the rally.

    Nasr Allah was speaking after a meeting of movements that are against Security Council Resolution 1559 which calls for the pullout of foreign troops from Lebanon.

    He rejected the resolution on the basis that Lebanon is still in a "state of war with the enemy Israel".

    Israeli enemy

    "We refuse that the presence of Syrian troops in the Bekaa be subject to [UN Security Council] Resolution 1559," Nasr Allah said.

    "It can only be subject to the Taif Accord," which stipulates a Syrian pullback into the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon before an agreement by the two states on the duration of the Syrian military presence.

    "We have the right to reject the international resolution because it is a blatant interference in our internal affairs and all its clauses are free services to the Israeli enemy"

    Hasan Nasr Allah,
    Hizb Allah leader

    "We have the right to reject the international resolution because it is a blatant interference in our internal affairs and all its clauses are free services to the Israeli enemy," said Nasr Allah.

    The shaikh, whose movement was instrumental in Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, also expressed confidence that Israel would soon withdraw from the Shebaa Farms border territories claimed by Lebanon.

    On Saturday, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad vowed to pull back the 14,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon towards the border.

    Lebanese opposition

    Lebanon's outgoing Defence Minister Abd al-Rahim Murad said on Sunday that Syria would start the pullback after a Lebanese-Syrian summit in Damascus on Monday.

    While al-Asad's speech was met with whistles by thousands of protesters in downtown Beirut late on Saturday, pro-Syrians mounted counter-demonstrations where they waved his portrait and fired shots in the air.

    Al-Asad has pledged to pull back
    Syrian forces to the border

    Leading opposition politician Walid Jumblatt was guarded in his reaction to the Syrian leader's speech, but said it was "positive and meets our aspirations".

    "I think when President al-Asad said in front of the Syrian people and the Lebanese people and the world that he will withdraw his troops, I think he was playing on words. We will see. We will monitor the implementation," he added.

    Syria has long argued that it needs to retain troops in Lebanon because of Israel's continued occupation of the Golan Heights, seized from Damascus in the 1967 Middle East war.

    The troops entered Lebanon in 1976 under an Arab League mandate to try to restore peace during that country's 15-year long civil war which finally ended in 1990 under the Taif agreement.



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