Syrian Troops Officially Withdraw from Lebanon

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 27, 2005

(BY BENNY AVNI, April 27, 2005, UNITED NATIONS – Syria’s withdrawal of all military forces from Lebanon, announced officially to the United Nations and the rest of the world yesterday, is yet to be verified, according to a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The report also noted that certain Security Council demands on Syria have not been fulfilled.

The report Mr. Annan sent to the council yesterday focused on the fact that a U.N. team, which was dispatched to the region on Monday, would have to confirm Syria’s full withdrawal before the United Nations would acknowledge its completion. “Some member states, as well as members of the Lebanese opposition, have asserted to me that Syrian military intelligence has taken up new positions in the south of Beirut and elsewhere,” Mr. Annan noted with caution.

The report also stated that the United Nations could not declare that Syria has fulfilled its obligations under Security Council resolution 1559 before certain conditions are met. Such stipulations include the disarmament of Hezbollah, allowing the upcoming Lebanese elections to be free of Syrian influence, and the establishment of “mutual diplomatic representation” between Lebanon and Syria.

In a letter addressed to Mr. Annan and the president of the Security Council, Syria’s foreign minister, Farouk al-Shara, wrote that the pullout of all of Syria’s “military, security apparatus, and assets” in Lebanon was completed yesterday.

Mr. al-Shara’s letter added that Syria expects the Security Council will recognize the country’s implementation of resolution 1559. He also asked that the council turn its attention to Israel’s presence in the disputed area of Shaba Farms, the Golan Heights, and “national rights of the Palestinian people.”

On the ground in Lebanon, Syrian generals bid farewell to their Lebanese counterparts in official ceremonies, and troops and equipment were paraded in long convoys making their way across the border. The show of withdrawal was hailed as “historic” by world leaders, including the White House and French President Chirac. Both, however, joined the United Nations in expressing caution.

“There are some lingering concerns that not all Syrian intelligence assets are out of Lebanon,” said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, noting that after nearly 30 years of Syrian occupation of Lebanon, yesterday was a “historic” day. “We want to make sure that Lebanon can move forward with free and fair elections without any outside interference,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan added.

The U.N. verification team that headed to Lebanon on Monday includes a Senegalese general, Alhadji Kanji; a British colonel, Ian Sinclair, and a Finnish commander, Kari Makinen. The three, according to a senior U.N. official who briefed reporters yesterday on condition of anonymity, would assess the situation and see if there is need for a larger verification team.

One problem members of the team could encounter is that, as the leader of the Washington-based pro-democracy Reform Party of Syria, Farid Ghadry, told The New York Sun, Syrian Baathists have been forced on the Lebanese population. They are involved in all areas: Some hold top economic posts, others are installed in teaching positions at universities, and Baathists have a strong presence in Lebanese courts either as judges or lawyers.

Moreover, Syrian intelligence officers have blended into the population in areas under the control of friendly armed militias, notably Hezbollah. Disarming all foreign and Lebanese militias, as called for in resolution 1559, is “not put on our action agenda” at this stage, the U.N. official said yesterday. He vowed however that “it remains part and parcel” of the resolution and its implementation. Both the Syrian and the Syrian-controlled Lebanese authorities, he added, promised access for the U.N. verification team in all areas, including those controlled by Hezbollah.

Mr. Annan omitted any reference to the connection between Syria and Hezbollah in his report, but he did mention that the organization “vowed to maintain its armed stance against Israel.” It noted, additionally, that Hezbollah’s leaders “began considering a possible disarmament.” Yesterday, however, Hezbollah’s top leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, insisted that the U.N. resolution does not apply to his organization, which he said, according to the Associated Press, “is not a militia, it is a resistance movement.”

While leaders of the opposition movement in Lebanon welcomed yesterday’s display, many remained skeptical. “The Syrian tutelage is over,” declared the influential Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, according to AP.

But Mr. Ghadry told the Sun that Mr. Annan’s report yesterday demonstrated that “unless there is a regime change in Syria, neither Lebanon, nor Iraq, or Syria itself, will have peace of mind.”

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun.  Visit the website at