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Syria to Annouce Partial Withdrawal of Troops From Lebanon

Former Lebanese Defense Minister Abdel Halim Mrad, whose Syrian-backed government resigned amid protests Monday, said the pullback would conform with the Taif treaty, which ended Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Under the treaty, Syrian troops are to pull back to the Bekaa Valley, an area in eastern Lebanon that borders Syria. Once that partial withdrawal is complete, the Taif accord calls for Syria and the Lebanon to negotiate further troop withdrawals.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is expected to announce a troop pullback to parliament on Saturday. In an interview with Time magazine published Tuesday, Assad said the removal of troops should begin “very soon.”

On Tuesday Syrian Ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, told the NewsHour Syria will withdraw its troops from Lebanon but will not do so “in a way that will create instability.”

Syrian troops have been in Lebanon since 1976, when the Lebanese government invited Syria to intervene in Lebanon’s civil war. Since then Syria has been a dominant influence Lebanese affairs.

President Bush said Friday that the United States and France, which have both pressured Syria to withdraw its troops, would not accept a partial withdrawal.

“There are no half-measures at all,” Mr. Bush said. “When the United States and France say withdraw, we mean complete withdrawal, no halfhearted measures.”

On Thursday Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah joined officials from Western governments in calling for the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanese soil.

The international pressure on Syria has intensified since last week’s assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who had resigned from the government in protest over Syria’s influence in Lebanon. Hariri, who was credited with rebuilding Beirut from the rubble of the civil war, was seen as a reformer and was reportedly ready to mount a political comeback. Hariri’s motorcade was struck with a bomb as he left a parliament meeting on a plan to call for new elections.

After Hariri’s assassination, street protesters began a “Cedar Revolution,” blaming Syria for Hariri’s death and calling for the ouster of the Syrian-backed government and the withdrawal of all Syrian troops.

Syria has denied any involvement in the assassination of Hariri, but world leaders have joined the Beirut street protestors in calling for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

On Monday the Syrian-backed Lebanese government resigned. Current Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, a Syria supporter and ally, has said new national elections will take place in May.

President Bush and others have said a full withdrawal by Syria is necessary in order for the May elections to take place.

U.N. Resolution 1559, passed last year, calls for the full withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and may conflict with the partial withdrawal stipulated in the Taif accord that Syria reportedly plans to implement.

The U.N. resolution also calls for the disarming of the Syrian-backed Hezbollah militant group. The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Egypt and other nations in the region are reportedly trying to work on a compromise and may seek to reconcile differences between Resolution 1559 and the Taif accord.

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