Mixed reactions to Syria pullback move

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's speech to his parliament on Saturday has drawn mixed reactions, with some countries hailing it while the United States and France voiced disappointment.

    Al-Asad said troops would first withdraw to the Bekaa Valley

    In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait hailed al-Asad's promise to pull back his troops as proof he intended to comply with the resolution. 

    Visiting Russian parliamentary foreign affairs committee chairman Mikhail Margilov also welcomed al-Asad's comments, a Foreign Ministry official said. 

    Abu al-Ghait said any Syrian pullout from Lebanon needed to be handled carefully. 

    "It's important to treat the situation in Lebanon with extreme sensitivity and caution to prevent any explosion of the situation, while at the same time working calmly to achieve a Syrian withdrawal that preserves the security and stability of fraternal Lebanon," he said. 

    Qatar and Bahrain also applauded al-Asad's move as a step towards withdrawal, but Israel expressed disappointment.

    "We have not heard the words 'immediate and full withdrawal'" 

    Adam Ereli,
    US State Department spokesman

    In Lebanon itself, the Druze leader and Progressive Socialist Party chief, Walid Jumblatt, described al-Asad's statement as a "positive action".

    Jumblatt told Aljazeera that the Lebanese people would lend a helping hand to the Syrians, on the basis of al-Asad's speech.

    However, clashes and stone throwing erupted on Saturday night at the Martyrs square in downtown Beirut between Lebanese opposition and pro-Syrian groups, Aljazeera's reported from Beirut.

    Lebanese army forces managed to disperse the clashing sides.

    Also, hundreds of pro-Syrian Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut and Tripoli, holding Syrian flags and pictures of al-Asad.

    In his speech, al-Asad said Damascus would redeploy all its troops in Lebanon to the Syrian border, but set no timetable for a full withdrawal. 

    It was not clear whether the troops would cross into Syria once they reached the border, but the announcement marked the end of a 29-year Syrian occupation of the heart of the country. 

    Syrian Emigrants Minister Buthaina Shaban, asked later by CNN to clarify al-Asad's remarks, said the troops would be withdrawn to "the Syrian side of the border." 

    Meanwhile, Lebanese defence minister told reporters the Syrian pullback to the east of Lebanon would start on Monday.

    Israeli reaction

    Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said al-Asad's pledge "constituted an evasion and not a response to the Security Council decisions regarding the need for Syria to withdraw fully its forces from Lebanon." 

    Shimon Peres said al-Asad's
    pledge was an 'evasion'

    Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Saturday called on Syria to totally pull its troops out of Lebanon and said a full withdrawal could lead to peace between Israel and Lebanon.

    Shalom dismissed al-Asad's speech.

    "Israel demands a full implementation of UN Resolution 1559 , meaning a complete withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon," Shalom said, speaking at a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi. Shalom said a Lebanon free of Syrian influence could make peace with Israel.

    The Jordanian minister also called on Syria to withdraw. "Implementation of the resolution should result in a stronger Lebanon and a Lebanon that is undivided," al-Mulqi said.


    The US and France on Saturday repeated their insistence on a complete Syrian withdrawal, with Washington saying al-Asad's pledge fell short of meeting the demands set by the UN Security Council. 

    In Washington, a State Department spokesman slammed al-Asad's promise of a redeployment of his troops as insufficient and said his speech contained nothing new. 

    "It's clear to us, not just the United States, but the international community, that his words are insufficient," spokesman Adam Ereli said in an interview on al-Hurra television on Saturday. "We have not heard the words 'immediate and full withdrawal'." 

    French reaction to al-Asad's speech was somewhat more restrained, with the Foreign Ministry saying Paris expected a complete Syrian withdrawal as soon as possible. 

    There are currently 14,000 Syrian
    troops stationed in Lebanon

    "We take note of the announcement by the Syrian President of his decision to implement Resolution 1559," the statement said. 

    "Thus we expect the complete withdrawal of its troops and
    services from Lebanon as soon as possible." 

    The United States and France have led the international campaign against Damascus's presence in Lebanon. The two countries pushed the Security Council in September to adopt Resolution 1559, which demands the immediate withdrawal from Lebanon of all foreign troops. 

    UN envoy

    A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Annan would dispatch special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen to the region to press for a Syrian withdrawal. 

    "(Annan) has requested his special envoy, Mr Terje Roed-Larsen, to travel to Beirut and Damascus this week to discuss with Lebanese and Syrian officials the full, complete and immediate implementation of Security Council resolution 1559," spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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