Syria leaves Lebanon after years of domination

AFTER 29 years in Lebanon, Syrian troops and intelligence services withdrew last week leaving most Lebanese elated as Syria’s military presence finally came to an end.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  May 1, 2005

AFTER 29 years in Lebanon, Syrian troops and intelligence services withdrew last week leaving most Lebanese elated as Syria’s military presence finally came to an end. The withdrawal was greeted by a farewell ceremony held in the Bekaa Valley and the departure of Rustom Ghazaleh, the notorious head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. Furthermore, brigadier general Jamil Sayyed, the feared pro-Syrian security chief in Beirut, stepped down because of what he called “changing political developments”. Ali Al Hajj, head of internal security in Lebanon also resigned. Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 after the outbreak of the civil war in 1975, deploying thousands of troops who stayed on after the war ended in 1990. Amin Gemayel, the former Lebanese president said recently that during the occupation Syria managed to infiltrate all of Lebanon’s national institutions and that it would take time to erase its presence. “Syria controls the presidency, the parliament and the government and all the other institutions and political parties. Syria was creating a creeping annexation policy and it won’t be very easy to get rid of the consequences of this hegemony,” said Gemayel. Mounting domestic, regional and international pressure in the wake of the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri on February 14 forced Syria’s Bashar Al Assad to gradually withdraw his 14,000 troops. Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian reform activist told Arabian Business, ”The Syrian regime should view this step as the beginning and not the end of the process of renormalising its strained relations with the international community. The next step that is on everyone’s mind is serious internal reform.” “After five years of major mistakes and insubstantial internal reforms, the international community, especially countries such as France and the US have grown weary of this regime and its leaders…which spells international isolation for Syria, a development that the country cannot withstand for long, even with the support of its perceived regional ‘allies’,” emphasized Abdulhamid. Before Hariri’s death, Assad apparently pressured the former prime minister to amend the Lebanese constitution, extending the term of the pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud. Hariri resigned shortly afterwards. The subsequent passing of UN resolution 1559 under the sponsorship of the United States and France coupled with the assassination triggered a crisis in the country. In the wake of the Syrian withdrawal, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan sent a team to Lebanon to verify Syria’s withdrawal. An additional team was dispatched to look into Hariri’s assassination after the UN Security Council deemed an international investigation was necessary. A remaining point of contention remains the disarming of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, as stipulated in UN resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. The US and some of its European allies consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organisation and have repeatedly called for it to lay down its weapons. However, Lebanese prime minister designate Najib Miqati has rejected calls to disarm Hezbollah. He has made clear the group can continue to defend itself.

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