[Homestead] Troublemaler Syria being forced out of Lebanon

tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sat Feb 5 17:07:11 EST 2005


Feb 5, 2005

    Under Pressure, Syria's Grip on Lebanon Appears to Be Weakening

By Sam F. Ghattas
Associated Press Writer

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) - Syria's grip over Lebanon appears to be slipping 
under international pressure and increasingly bold Lebanese calls for 
Damascus to pull its army out.

With the calls growing increasingly belligerent, Syria gave a pointed 
reminded that it still wields control, with its 15,000 troops deployed 
across the country. "The opposition has crossed all the lines," warned 
Lebanon's pro-Syria prime minister, Omar Karami.

"If they think that Syria is now weak, this is not true. ... We will 
show them," Karimi told reporters, without elaborating.

Still, there is an obvious change in the air.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded a Syrian troop withdrawal. Syrian 
Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa recently said Syrian troops could be 
out of Lebanon in two years.

Lebanese opponents of Syrian domination - emboldened by international 
scrutiny of Syria's actions by the United States, France and the U.N. 
Security Council - have made unprecedented calls for Damascus to extract 
its army and intelligence agents after nearly three decades of 
deployment in Lebanon, Syria's much smaller Arab neighbor.

"The tutelage is over and the hegemony has diminished," declared Marwan 
Hamadeh, a former Cabinet minister seriously wounded in an October car 
bomb in Beirut that killed his driver.

Some Lebanese opposition politicians this week demanded "Syrian hegemony 
be lifted" and pressed their case directly to a Syrian diplomat sent by 
President Bashar Assad to Beirut in an attempt to defuse tensions. By 
contrast, Lebanese politicians in the past were summoned to Damascus or 
were left to deal with Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt, political leader of the Druse sect and one-time Syrian 
ally who joined the opposition, stepped up the campaign, pointing a 
finger at Syria in the 1977 killing of Kamal Jumblatt, his father and 
prominent Lebanese leftist politician who opposed Syria.

The pro-Syrian camp has accused the opposition of taking instructions 
from Washington and Paris, saying the campaign against Syria also serves 
Israeli interests. They have said the Syrian army was still needed in 
the country.

The United States also has been turning up the heat on Syria.

Last week, President Bush again accused Syria of sponsoring terrorism, a 
charge Damascus denies. Washington also accuses Syria of letting 
Insurgents cross into Iraq.

However, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said 
Thursday that America has no plans to use force against Syria.

Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Service Committee it is not U.S. policy 
to destabilize Syria. "It shouldn't be their policy (the Syrians) to 
destabilize Iraq, or Lebanon for that matter," he added.

Syria has a lot to lose from leaving Lebanon, apart from the political 
influence and security concerns - Damascus is only a 20-minute drive 
from the Lebanese border.

"The prospect of a more independent Lebanon is not just a threat to 
Syria's strategic position vis-a-vis Israel, it is also a threat to the 
economic interests of the Syrian military-security elite," said Jeremy 
Binnie, Middle East editor for Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments 
magazine in London.

Syria's troops crossed into Lebanon in 1976 during the civil war there, 
which dragged on for another 14 years. The troops have stayed at the 
government's request to help restore order, making Syria the main power 

Lebanon's most prominent political exile, former army commander Michel 
Aoun, said from his Paris refuge of 14 years that the days of Syrian 
control are over.

"We are triumphing and Lebanon will again become a free, sovereign and 
independent country," the ex-general told the Lebanese through satellite 
television. "You have become a free people. Do not behave in a hostage 


Sam F. Ghattas, based in Beirut, has covered the Middle East for the AP 
for two decades

AP-ES-02-05-05 1507EST

*This story can be found at:* http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGB5IEP8U4E.html

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