Al-Asad: Withdrawal to Bekaa Valley

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has addressed parliament and said his country's troops will first withdraw to the Bekaa Valley before redeploying along the border with Lebanon.

    Al-Asad's speech was met with jubilation by Syrian MPs

    "In so doing, we will have implemented both the Taif Accord and UN Security Council resolution 1559," he told cheering members of parliament on Saturday.

    "We started the withdrawal in 2000, and pulled back almost 60% of our troops. The number was 40,000 and at present there are only 14,000," he said.


    "We admit that we made some mistakes in Lebanon," he added. 


    In the first official Lebanese reaction, opposition leader and prominent MP Walid Jumblatt said al-Asad's speech was a "positive start".


    Jumblatt also demanded a timetable for Syrian withdrawal.

    Al-Asad warns

    Despite laying out plans for Syria's military redeployment and withdrawal, al-Asad warned "external pressures" - a reference to both French and US measures in the UN to force a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon - would continue.

    Al-Asad: External pressures on
    Syria will likely continue

    "The pressure [on us] and targeting of Syria will continue," he said.

    Al-Asad also accused certain quarters of the international media of painting a distorted picture of Syria and its government.

    A Syrian cabinet minister said her country's troops would withdraw from Lebanon to the Syrian side of the border under a redeployment plan announced on Saturday. 


    "What the president said, we understood absolutely clearly, is that the troops will withdraw to Syria ... on our borders inside Syria," Buthaina Shaban said. 

    Meanwhile, Lebanese officials said Lebanese and Syrian leaderships would meet on Monday to approve a Syrian plan to pull out its troops from Lebanon.


    They said the meeting between Lebanese President Emile Lahud and al-Asad and top officials from both countries would convene in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

    Insufficient move


    The US State Department issued a statement after the parliamentary address that al-Asad's promise of a redeployment of his troops in Lebanon was "insufficient".


    "President al-Asad's announcement is not enough," Darla Jordan, spokeswoman for the State Department, said.

    The Bush administration is not
    satisfied by al-Asad's speech


    "The international community has made clear that Syria must withdraw completely and immediately all its military forces and intelligence services from Lebanon in accordance with UNSCR (sic) 1559."


    In his weekly radio address a few hours before al-Asad's speech, US President George Bush renewed his demand for Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, describing the Damascus government as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East.   

    "Lebanese citizens who have watched free elections in Iraq are now demanding the right to decide their own destiny, free of Syrian control and domination.

    "Syria has been an occupying force in Lebanon for nearly three decades, and Syria's support for terrorism remains a key obstacle to peace in the broader Middle East," he said.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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