Saudi demands Syria leave Lebanon

Saudi leader Crown Prince Abd Allah has sharply told Syria's president to start pulling out of Lebanon soon or face deeper isolation, a Saudi official said.

    Damage in relations with Saudi would deepen Syria's isolation

    The unusually tough message came on Thursday when Syrian President Bashar al-Asad met Abd Allah and other Saudi leaders in the kingdom's capital, the Saudi official said.

    Syria so far has resisted Arab pressure to withdraw, saying in
    behind-the-scenes diplomacy in recent days that it wants to keep 3000 troops and early-warning stations in Lebanon, according to an Arab diplomat in Cairo.

    The Syrian army already operates radar stations in Dahr al-Baidar, on mountaintops bordering Syria. Israeli warplanes have attacked the sites in the past. 

    Abd Allah told al-Asad the kingdom insisted on the full withdrawal of all of Syria's 14,000 troops and intelligence forces from Lebanon and wanted it to start "soon", the Saudi official said. 

    Partial withdrawal

    Al-Asad replied only that he would study the possibility of carrying out a partial withdrawal before an Arab summit scheduled for 23 March in Algeria, the official said. 

    The Syrian leader insisted that he was trying to resolve the problem, but that not everything was up to him.

    About 14,000 Syrian troops are
    stationed in Lebanon

    Saudi officials replied that the situation was his problem and warned that if Damascus refused to comply, it would lead to tensions in Saudi-Syrian ties, the Saudi official added.

    In a further sign of their impatience, the Saudis rejected a Syrian request that the upcoming Arab summit officially ask Damascus to withdraw its forces, which would give any pullback an Arab endorsement.

    Angry with Syria

    Saudi Arabia is said to be angry with Damascus over the 14 February assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who also held Saudi citizenship and was close to the Saudi royal family. 

    The Lebanese opposition has blamed Syria and its allied government in Beirut for the killing, which sparked dramatic street protests in Beirut that forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian government.

    Damascus and the Lebanese government deny any role in the assassination. 

    Damage in relations with Saudi Arabia would deepen Syria's isolation after its traditional allies Russia and France joined the United States and United Nations in demanding a full pullout.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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