Despite Syria’s announcement today it will withdraw troops from mountain and coastal areas in Lebanon, Damascus has been arming local supporters and preparing troops for possible confrontations, sources in Lebanon told WorldNetDaily
Without offering a timeline, Lebanese Defense Minister Abdul-Rahim Murad said today Syrian troops will be withdrawn from Lebanon to the eastern Bekaa Valley on the Syrian border in accordance with a 1989 agreement that requires Damascus to remove its nearly 20,000 soldiers.
“The decision to withdraw has been taken,” Murad said in television interviews. “What remains is the exact timing.”
Earlier, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed al-Mualem said Damascus is ready to work with the U.N. to implement a Security Council resolution requiring Syrian troops to leave Lebanon.
“Syria expresses its keen interest in cooperating with the envoy of the secretary-general of the U.N. to accomplish his mission in the best formula possible,” said al-Mualem. “The important withdrawals that have been carried out so far and will be carried out later will be done in agreement with Lebanon against the backdrop of the Taif Accord and the mechanisms it entails.’
The decision follows increased international pressure on Syria and a mass civil uprising to free Lebanon from Syrian occupation launched after the assassination last week of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, an advocate of Lebanese independence.
But security and opposition forces on the ground in Lebanon told WorldNetDaily Syrian forces have been distributing weapons, including AK-47 rifles, to pro-Syrian groups. They said information has been received that Syrian troops have been preparing to suppress the civil uprising and will respond heavily to any violent action on the part of the opposition.
Opposition leaders last week called for an “uprising for independence,” demanding Damascus withdraw its troops and urging the current pro-Syrian government to step down.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, in conjunction with other major figures of the anti-Syrian movement, put out a statement urging the “dismissal of the government, which has no legitimacy, and the formation of a transitional administration to protect the Lebanese people and ensure the immediate withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon to pave the way for holding free and honest legislative elections.”
“In response to the policy of intimidation and terrorization by the Lebanese authorities and the Syrian authorities, the Lebanese opposition declares the launching of the democratic and peaceful uprising for independence,” the statement said.
Jumblatt told WND earlier this week the mood on the streets in Beirut is one of defiance.
“Already we have our uprising. Most of the Lebanese are angry at the loss of Hariri, who was a symbol of freedom to them. Today, we had a huge demonstration. Christians and Muslims are joining together in an unprecedented campaign to free Lebanon. They are protesting, visiting [Hariri’s] tomb and praying there. We call for this to continue.”
But sources in Lebanon say Syria’s actions indicate it doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon.
“They are arming supporters and preparing. Syria is not planning to leave without putting up a fight. Lebanon is too important for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad,” said one source, an opposition figure who asked that his name be withheld.
Many analysts agree Assad considers his influence in Lebanon a key factor to his position in the Middle East and that a successful campaign to drive Syrian troops from Lebanon would devastate the Syrian government.
Assad has used Hezbollah militants, who maintain over 3,000 missiles on the Lebanese-Israeli border, as deterrence against attacks by the Jewish state and largely depends on Lebanese trade to fuel the Syrian economy.
A security source said “Syria is readying its forces and arming supporters. Indications are this is to suppress the uprising if the uprising doesn’t extinguish itself.”
Opposition leader Marwan Hamadeh, a member of Lebanese Parliament said he is skeptical of the Syrian withdrawal announcements.
“Saying that Syria will withdraw from Lebanon is not enough,” without an exact timing or guarantee, he said.
Meanwhile, pro-Syrian Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami declared he is against a swift Syrian pullout.
“Driving Syria out of Lebanon through challenges, provocation and curses cannot leave the country relaxed and stable. (A Syrian withdrawal) can only take place through consensus,” he said.
Karami said Syria’s influence in Lebanon reflects historic and cultural ties between the two nations and is not a result of Syrian occupation.
“Syrian influence in Lebanon didn’t come about because of the Syrian army and the Syrian intelligence service. It is an illusion to think that.”