Syrian troops are moving east. So are intelligence officers, according to some reports.But what does it really add up to ? Neither Damascus nor Beirut have made it clear whether this is the beginning of the end for Syria’s military presence in Lebanon, or whether the ultimate goalis a partial pullout. Moreover no timetable has been set for the complete departure of Syria’s 14,000-strong contingent, which first entered the country as peacekeepers during the civil war in 1976. By the end of the month, up to 5,000 soldiers are set to be redeployed to the eastern Bekaa valley. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the withdrawal plan in talks with his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud. The deal has been criticised as a fudge between the Taif accord, which envisaged a Syrian pullback from most of Lebanon, and a UN resolution which demands total withdrawal. Hezbollah, Lebanon’s only armed party, has called for peaceful protests in support of Syria, warning of mayhem if soldiers leave. That message will certainly be falling on deaf ears in Beirut’s Martyrs Square, where protesters blame Damascus for the murder of Lebanon’s former premier Rafik al-Hariri. They have vowed to demonstrate until Syria quits Lebanon for good.
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