Lebanon parade marks Syrian pullout

Syrian special forces have joined Lebanese troops for a farewell ceremony marking the end of Syria's 29-year military involvement in its smaller neighbour.

    Syria has completed its pullout from Lebanon

    The soldiers, the last Syrian troops remaining in Lebanon, donned red berets and camouflage gear and took part in the ceremony at a Lebanese army air base at Rayak, a few kilometres from the Syrian border.

    Their departure comes after heavy Lebanese and international pressure.

     

    The ceremony opened with Lebanese and Syrian military commanders placing wreaths at a cornerstone they laid for a monument to commemorate the Syrian military presence in Lebanon.

     

    Many among the 250 Syrian soldiers who stayed behind for the ceremony after Syrian troops and intelligence officers left the country on Monday shouted pro-Syrian slogans including "long live Bashar", referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.

     

    Farewell ceremony

     

    A convoy of about a dozen vehicles pulled out of the site before sundown on Monday, heading for the nearby Masnaa border crossing on its way to Syria

     

    Only 250 Syrian troops remained
    for Tuesday's ceremony

    The top Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon, Major-General Rustum Ghazala, was in the convoy, witnesses said - although he was expected to return to participate in the farewell ceremony.

     

    Lebanese troops took over the vacated positions in Anjar in the Bekaa Valley, apparently to prevent a repeat of celebrations by residents and anti-Syrian activists, who in evacuations of other sites have quickly swept in with Lebanese flags and paint to erase Syrian military symbols.

     

    UN verification

     

    On Monday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched a team to verify whether Syria had withdrawn all its troops from Lebanon, as it promised to do under an agreement with the United Nations.

     

    The verification team will be led by Senegalese Brigadier-General Mouhamadou Kandji, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

     

    Another UN team of logistics and communications experts will arrive in Beirut later in the week to lay the groundwork for an investigation into former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination.

     

    Lahud (L) awarded Turkmani (R)
    a medal for achieving stability

    Anger over the 14 February killing helped turn the tide against Syria's long-time presence in Lebanon.

     

    The opposition blamed the murder on the Lebanese government and its Syrian backers, accusations both governments deny.

     

    Huge Syria Out protests in Beirut brought down the pro-Syrian government.

     

    UN and US pressure intensified on Damascus to withdraw its army, and finally Syria's government set a 30 April deadline for all the troops to be pulled out.

     

    Peacekeepers

     

    The Syrians entered Lebanon in 1976, ostensibly as peacekeepers in the then year-old civil war. After the war ended in 1990, about 40,000 Syrian troops remained, giving Damascus the decisive say in Lebanese politics.

     

    Its allies in Beirut have been eager to give the rushed withdrawal some dignity.

     

    Lebanese President Emile Lahud bestowed on Syrian Defence Minister Hasan Turkmani and Syrian military Chief of Staff General Ali Habib, the Grand Cordone of the Cedars Medal in appreciation of Syria's role in achieving stability and security in Lebanon, a statement said.

     

    In the market town of Chtaura on the Beirut-Damascus highway in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanese troops took over Syrian intelligence offices and another Ghazala residence.

     

    Relatives demanded the release
    of loved ones from Syrian jails

    A military base of several cottages near the town of Baalbak was torn down by the withdrawing troops on Monday and several flatbed trucks loaded with armoured vehicles headed towards the border.

     

    Meanwhile, Lebanese security chief Jamil al-Sayyid announced he was stepping down, citing the "changing political developments".

     

    The director-general of the Interior Ministry's department of general security, al-Sayyid was widely seen as the main enforcer of Damascus' policy in Lebanon.

     

    Demonstration

     

    Meanwhile, relatives of Lebanese prisoners held in Syrian jails scuffled with the army and damaged lawmakers' cars during a demonstration on Tuesday outside parliament.

     

    They were demanding the release of their loved ones who were allegedly detained by Syrian security forces. 

     

    Two protesters were seen being loaded into a civil defence ambulance while two others received first aid at the scene of the demonstration in downtown Beirut. 

     

    Abbas Nasir, Aljazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, reporting from the al-Masnaa spoke to some Lebanese gathered to witness the troops withdrawing.

     

    One bystander said: "I'm here to celebrate Lebanon's victory, freedom and independence. People have come here to celebrate the end of Syrian occupation.

     

    "Some others, who have relations with the Baath party, have come to bid farewell to the troops. All citizens coming from Majdal Anjar area have gathered here to celebrate the Syrian army departure from Lebanon and call for the release of their relatives detained in Syrian jails.

     

    "The terrorist dictatorial Syrian regime denies they are held there.

     

    "We have all supported Rafiq al-Hariri from the minute he involved himself in national work. After his assassination and the killing of our dignity in Lebanon, we can do nothing but support Saad [al-Hariri's son] to go on his path."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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