Lahud, al-Asad meet to confirm pullout

The presidents of Syria and Lebanon will meet on Monday to approve a two-phased plan for withdrawal, after which Syrian troops will immediately begin their pullout from Lebanon.

    Al-Asad on Saturday announced complete withdrawal

    Lebanon's defence minister said on Sunday the withdrawal would start immediately after the end of the talks in Damascus between Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Lebanon's Emile Lahud. 

    The two leaders were also set to work out details of the plan, including a timeline, officials in Beirut said. 


    Lebanese presidential spokesman said the meeting of the Syrian-Lebanese Supreme Council, with Lebanon's outgoing Prime Minister Umar Karami and parliamentary speaker Nabih Birri also taking part, was due to start at midday on Monday (1000 GMT).

    Lahud's media adviser Rafiq Shalala told Aljazeera that the Syrian withdrawal to the borders, as announced by al-Asad, will be approved during the meeting. 

    "However, the logistical details and the mechanism of the Syrian withdrawal are expected to be discussed in a meeting of the joint military committees due on Monday afternoon or Tuesday," he said.

    "These committees will discuss the practical details, as they are related to military affairs and should be discussed between the two military leaderships."

    Shalala pointed out that the technical details will be left to be discussed later after the formation of the new government in Lebanon, as this mechanism should be placed and agreed by the two governments, according to Taif Accord.

    International pressure

    Facing intense international pressure, al-Asad on Saturday announced plans for a complete withdrawal of troops from Lebanon but said Damascus would still play a role in its smaller neighbour. 

    However, the United States has been wary of al-Asad's announcement and plans. The White House said on Sunday that, along with its allies, it would not stand by as al-Asad took "half measures" in Lebanon, promising to step up pressure for a complete and immediate withdrawal. 

    There are currently 14,000 Syrian
    troops based in Lebanon

    "The international community is not going to stand by and let Asad continue to have these kinds of half measures," said White House counsellor Dan Bartlett. 

    Meanwhile, Lebanon's most powerful and only armed party, Hizb Allah, called for peaceful protests on Tuesday in support of Syria and warned of chaos if Syrian troops were to pull out. 

    While insisting on a Syrian withdrawal, the US said the timing could be worked out if al-Asad committed to removing all troops and secret service personnel. But that had to be done before Lebanese elections expected in May. 

    "I don't think there could be a scenario in which there could be a real, truly free and fair election with a Syrian presence continuing to have an intimidation factor in Lebanon," Bartlett said. 

    Syrian secret services and intelligence officials in Lebanon "really keep the clamp of fear in the Lebanese people", he said. 

    Sanctions considered

    US President George Bush is considering new unilateral sanctions, including freezing Syrian assets, US officials say, and Washington was discussing "next steps" with European allies. 

    Al-Asad said Syrian troops would initially pull back to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon and then to the border area in line with the Taif Accord. 

    The 1989 Taif Accord ended Lebanon's civil war and, among other points, called for the redeployment of Syrian troops to eastern Lebanon followed by agreement on a timetable for a full withdrawal.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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