A cosmetic exercise or the start of a total pullout? That was the question being asked as two presidents met to discuss details of Syria’s troop withdrawal from Lebanon. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad laid on the red carpet treatment for his guest, Lebanon’s Emile Lahoud, but it was the content of their talks that was under scrutiny across the globe.
The meeting was followed by a statement issued from both sides, saying Syrian soldiers would complete their pullback to the Bekaa Valley in Eastern Lebanon before the end of the month. A joint military commission would then decide how long the forces would stay there.
Both parties also said they respected all UN Security Council Resolutions, including one demanding that Syria quit Lebanon. Syrian troops were spotted on the move today but there were conflicting reports about whether this was the start of the two-phase operation. A Lebanese military source says it won’t begin until tomorrow.
In Beirut meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters gathered, demanding a total Syrian withdrawal and the truth about last month’s killing of Lebanon’s former premier Rafik al-Hariri. Syria has denied accusations that it had a hand in the assassination.