Sun, Mar 13, 2005 - Page 1 News List

First Syrian troops pull out of Lebanon, as spies stand fast


A 62-vehicle convoy carrying Syrian troops and equipment withdrawn from northern Lebanon crossed the border early yesterday in a heavy snow as Syrians at the frontier welcomed the troops home, throwing flowers and chanting, "We love Syria!"

But intelligence agents remained in nine offices in northern Lebanon, and the UN Mideast envoy said Syria needs to produce a timetable for a full withdrawal from the rest of Lebanon.

The civilians gathered under the roof of a Syrian customs checkpoint, seeking shelter from the cold and heavy snow that delayed the crossing for several hours. They waved Syrian flags and blew whistles. Some handed flowers to the soldiers, while others threw rice, rose petals and sweets in a traditional Arab welcome. Some in the crowd sang national songs to the beat of drums.

The convoy crossed the border at Jedeidet Yabous, 50km from Damascus and 100km east of Beirut, the Lebanese capital.

Under international pressure, Syria this week began pulling its 14,000-strong force back to the eastern Bekaa Valley. It is to negotiate with the government on their complete withdrawal from Lebanon later.

Despite the pullout from the north of Lebanon, nine Syrian intelligence offices remain open there, including in the towns of Tripoli, Akkar, Minye and Amyoun. Plainclothes intelligence agents operate from the guarded offices in apartment buildings and deal directly with Lebanese.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said Friday the UN expects Assad to produce a timetable for the full withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence officers from Lebanon.

Speaking in Amman, where he sought Jordanian support for UN Security Council Resolution 1559 on Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, Roed-Larsen indicated he was optimistic about his meeting with the Syrian president in Damascus, which was to be held yesterday.

When asked whether that meant the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops in Lebanon as well as its intelligence officers, Roed-Larsen responded: "I said `full' and `timetables.'"

The UN Security Council is to receive a report next month from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, based on Roed-Larsen's visit, on Syria's implementation of the resolution. It then will consider what steps to take next.

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