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Home >> World
UPDATED: 14:42, March 03, 2005
Syria under mounting pressure to withdraw Lebanon
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International pressure has been mounting on Syria, with the Arab League (AL), the United States, Britain, Russia and other countries urging Damascus' pullout from Lebanon amid the crisis sparked by the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

AL Secretary General Amr Moussa voiced on Wednesday the hope the Lebanese-Syrian issue would be resolved within an Arab framework, noting a solution could be reached in accordance with the Taif Agreement, which outlines the gradual pullout of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

The AL chief added that there is no contradiction between the Taif Agreement and the French-US backed UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which calls on Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon and stop meddling in its neighbor's internal affairs.

The United States, which is turning up the heat against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, demanded on Wednesday in blunt terms that Syria get out of Lebanon.

US President George W. Bush applauded the agreement between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier in London that Syria's authority over the political affairs of neighboring Lebanon must end.

Both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, "You getyour troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish," Bush said during an appearance in Maryland.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan asked Syria to "get its forces and its intelligence services out of Lebanon so the Lebanese people can move forward to a future that is based on sovereignty and independence free from outside interference."

Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon will be judged by its action rather than by words, the spokesman said, referring to Assad's pledge that Syria might withdraw its troops from Lebanon in a few months.

"It (withdrawal) should be very soon and maybe in the next few months. Not after that," Assad said an interview conducted on Monday and published by Time magazine on its website on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Syria that the world is watching its actions closely, adding to diplomatic pressure on Damascus.

"The concerns over Syria are well known," Blair said in an interview published Wednesday in The Guardian newspaper. "I think they have to realize that the international community is looking at Syria very closely at the moment."

"For Syria, it is important to realize that the international community expects certain obligations to be undertaken and adhered to," he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said Syria should withdraw its troops from Lebanon but warned that the move must be made cautiously. The withdrawal is what is required by the UN Security Council resolution 1559, he said.

"But we all have to make sure that this withdrawal does not violate the very fragile balance which we still have in Lebanon, which is a very difficult country," he said in an interview with the BBC.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two Arab powerhouses, have stepped in to persuade Syria to withdraw from Lebanon to avoid a showdown with the world, Arab diplomats said. They said the two are trying to win Syrian acceptance of a timetable for a complete withdrawal by April.

In Lebanon, opposition leaders called Wednesday on Assad to make an official announcement on a pullout of Syrian troops and intelligence services from Lebanon.

They also urged "immediate" resignation of Lebanon's public prosecutor and six top security officials to ensure the integrity of the probe into the assassination of Hariri.

Assad should make an "official announcement" for a complete and "honorable" pullout of Syrian troops and intelligence services from Lebanon, the opposition said in a statement.

In addition, the opposition warned that they would not join any discussions concerning the forming of a new government unless pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud accepts these demands.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Omar Karami announced resignation of his government on Monday in the face of massive demonstrations called by the opposition who accused Syria and the pro-Syrian government of being behind the assassination of Hariri.

Lebanon has begun the search for a successor to Karami. Under Lebanon's constitution, the prime minister is elected by parliament members with a majority in favor. Customarily, the prime minister is given to a Sunni Muslim, while the president is a Maronite Christian and the parliament speaker a Shiite.

Source: Xinhua

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