Mubarak, al-Asad in talks on Lebanon

Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Asad have held talks in Damascus on plans for a full withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

    Egypt is at the forefront of Arab efforts to mediate in the crisis

    Mubarak's unannounced trip on Tuesday came just a week before the Arab League summit in Algiers and is seen as an attempt to avert a standoff on the Syrian-Lebanese issue.

    Egypt has been at the forefront of Arab efforts to mediate in the crisis. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has also conducted talks with Mubarak on the issue, and Syrian and Lebanese politicians have visited the country in the past few weeks.

    However, on Tuesday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement denying it was mediating.

    "The kingdom was neither asked to conduct any mediation nor has it made any offer in this context," a ministry official said.

    Syrian evacuation

    In Beirut, witnesses said Lebanese internal security forces
    observed tight vigilance as Syrian units at the Ramlat al-Baida area prepared to leave.

    Intelligence officers were seen riding in military vehicles, while
    a truck was seen loaded with office supplies, tables and chairs.

    Syrian soldiers are evacuating
    their positions in Lebanon

    Syrian soldiers were seen waving V-for-victory signs as they
    prepared to leave.

    Syrian intelligence has a main office at the Beau Rivage Hotel in the seafront area of Ramlat al-Baida and another office in the Hamra area.

    Lebanese opposition parties have stepped up their demand for the withdrawal of all Syrian troops and intelligence operatives since the February 14 assassination of popular former premier Rafiq al-Hariri.

    Massive flow

    Up to one million people gathered in Beirut on Monday to call for an end to Syrian dominance in Lebanon, the latest in a series of protests triggered by al-Hariri's assassination.

    The massive flow of people, marching to al-Hariri's grave in downtown Beirut, blocked entrances to the capital. Protesters called for the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops and an international inquiry into al-Hariri's death.

    Syria has so far evacuated all military positions in northern Lebanon except for six bureaus for its intelligence forces in Tripoli. All Syrian intelligence offices would be preparing to leave Lebanon in the coming two days, Lebanese sources said.

    There are currently about 4500-5000 Syrian intelligence units stationed in Lebanon, while Syria has so far redeployed some 4800 soldiers, half of whom had left for Syria since last week.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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