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The United Nations mission currently in Lebanon to verify the departure of Syrian troops and intelligence forces from the country has been coordinating its travel in a manner that offers military installations advanced notice of the team’s arrival, allowing any remaining Syrian intelligence agents to hide or flee, sources on the ground with the mission told WorldNetDaily.
Although Syria claimed it removed its intelligence forces from Lebanon with last week’s reported withdrawal of troops, former Lebanese prime minister Michel Aoun and several Lebanese opposition leaders told WND this week Damascus continues to secretly maintain intelligence agents in the country.
”I have been given some information that confirms the presence of Syrian intelligence agents still operating inside Lebanon,” said Aoun. ”Intelligence forces have carefully relocated. Plus the penetration of Lebanese intelligence by Syria is very deep. Many Lebanese intelligence forces, who may appear working for Lebanon, are really Syrian trained agents.”
Other senior Lebanese opposition sources also told WorldNetDaily Syrian intelligence officials have set up shop elsewhere in Lebanon, including refugee camps and Hezbollah bases.
A United Nations team arrived last week to verify the departure from Lebanon of Syrian troops and intelligence forces. The mission was originally supposed to consist of eight civilians, but U.N. officials and Lebanese sources told WND only four are currently in Lebanon.
The U.N. team yesterday checked several sites previously used by the Syrian troops and intelligence agents in the Bekaa Valley and are slated to visit installations in eastern Lebanon this morning.
The mission is coordinating its travel with Lebanese security, substantial elements of which have been accused of working for Syria, and their plans have been leaked multiple times to bases scheduled for inspection, according to sources close to the team.
”The team’s moves are well known here, there is no attempt at secrecy,” said a Lebanese source close to the mission. ”In some cases they have actually announced their schedule. Of course Syrian intelligence knows the U.N. is coming to a certain base. We saw that yesterday.”
The source was referring to a visit yesterday by the U.N. mission to a base in the Bekaa Valley that was apparently known in advance by Palestinian guerillas, who fired warning shots into the air when the team arrived.
Stephane Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman who has been dealing with the verification mission, told WND the gunfire incident occurred ”when the team was approaching a camp manned by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Lebanon. They had gotten reports Syrian military intelligence had relocated in that camp. As they were going near, shots were fired.”
Dujarric conceded, ”I’m not aware whether or not the team is announcing their plans in advance. They are being escorted by Lebanese authorities, so obviously some people know where they are going.”
He said methods being used by the U.N. team to verify Syria has departed Lebanon include ”visual verification, interviewing people, looking at documents. They have no time frame, but will report back whenever they feel ready.”
He confirmed the team in Lebanon consists of only four individuals, not eight, as most media reports have stated.
Syria sent its troops into Lebanon in 1976 upon the request of the Lebanese president after the outbreak of civil war a year earlier. Damascus claimed its military presence was meant to reinstate security but refused to remove its troops from Lebanon even after the fighting ended in 1990, keeping nearly 40,000 soldiers and intelligence forces stationed there until recently.
Many analysts agree Syrian President Bashar Assad considers his influence in Lebanon a key factor to his position in the Middle East. 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.
Responding to political pressure resulting mostly from Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Lebanese border in 2000, Damascus removed and redeployed some of its troops, bringing down the number to about 20,000. Syria kept the remainder stationed in Lebanon in spite of a U.N. resolution last year and the recent U.S. Syria Accountability Act calling for Damascus to remove all its soldiers.
The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri Feb. 14 resulted in regular anti-Syrian demonstrations, with numbers sometimes reaching near 1 million and the international community uniting in their demand Syria immediately withdraw all its troops and intelligence forces, which it says it has.
Walid Bou Malhab, a political analyst in Lebanon, told WND, ”Syrian intelligence forces are hiding in every corner. They cannot imagine themselves out of this country. To leave is not in their mentality. They have financial, commercial interests and they look forward to maintaining their positions in spite of any U.N. team here.”