Syria: Lebanon pullout is "full and complete", UN to verify

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Retreating soldiers, flashing victory signs, completed a withdrawal spurred by intense international pressure and massive Lebanese street protests against a Syrian occupation force that at one time reached 40,000. Masnaa residents of the Bekaa Valley region danced, waved flags, raised banners and cried tears of brotherhood in celebration as they witnessed the last troop convoys passing. The Tuesday afternoon border crossing marked the official exit from Lebanon of the last army remnants, leaving 29 years of occupation behind.

Syria's Ambassador to the U.N., Fayssal Mekhdad, spoke to the press claiming that the pullout was "full and complete."

"I have just submitted a letter to both the secretary-general and the president of the Security Council from his excellency Mr. Farouq al-Sharaa on behalf of the Syrian government confirming the Syrian full withdrawal from Lebanon in terms of withdrawing the troops, the security apparatus and the [intelligence] assets," Mekdad said.

The U.N., acting with uncertainty that withdrawal claims are true, will work to check them. A U.N. team sent for this purpose has already begun work in Damascus. A spokesman said the group would first gather material in the Syrian capital, then later leave for the Lebanese capital in Beirut.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, addressing the Security Countil in New York, expressed some doubts about the completeness of Syria's implementation of the council's decisions. "As of April 26, 2005, the requirements of Resolution 1559 have not yet been met," Annan said. "There has been no progress in the implementation of other provisions of the resolution," he added, stating that some member states had informed him that Syrian intelligence troops might be taking up new positions south of Beirut.

Verifying the troop withdrawal will be fairly simple. The more difficult task will be identifying whether all intelligence assets are gone. These are not the uniformed groups, but members of the security services found at all levels of Lebanese society; in social, political and military echelons.

Lebanon region map

The Lebanese government, led by Bashar al-Assad, will need to make quick political reforms if his regime is to survive. The once-dominant pro-Syrian intelligence and security services are disappearing as the new governing forces have demonstrated they hold them accountable for past actions. The leadership vacuum must be filled.

Yesterday, the powerful head of the General Security service Jamil Sayyed, announced his resignation due to "changing political developments". Raymond Azar, the chief of Lebanese military intelligence, reportedly fled with his family to France.

A former CIA operative in Lebanon and the Middle East, Bob Baer said, "[The Syrians] are going to lose day-to-day control over Lebanon, once they don't have the T-72 tanks and the military there to back up the intelligence units," according to UPI.

But the close relationship that comes with their national proximity to each other and their intertwined destinies is evident from their parting formalities and festivities.

A Tuesday morning joint Lebanese-Syrian military gathering at Bekaa's air base in Riyaq bid farewell to the nearly 500 remaining troops and intelligence officers. Attended by military attachés and dignitaries from several countries, including the United States, France and North Korea. Medals were exchanged and both Lebanese and Syrian military bands played anthems.

In the largely symbolic ceremony, commander of the Lebanese Army Gen. Michel Suleiman said, "Brothers in arms, thank you for your sacrifices. Together we shall always remain brothers in arms in the face of the Israeli enemy."