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Syrian troops out of Lebanon in months, Assad promises
Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, yesterday promised to withdraw all his country’s troops from neighbouring Lebanon within “a few months”.

It could mark another seismic shift in the politics of the Middle East. A Syrian withdrawal would end three decades of interference by Damascus. The undertaking by Mr Assad, a qualified ophthalmologist who completed his training in Britain, came after the pro-Syrian government of Lebanon was ousted on Monday after unprecedented public protests on Beirut’s streets.

“The withdrawal should be very soon and maybe in the next few months,” Mr Assad said in an interview with America’s Time magazine. “Not after that. I can’t give you a technical answer. The point is the next few months.”

While the Syrian government agreed in principle to withdraw its troops as part of the 1989 Taef agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war, it has repeatedly obfuscated and delayed. Officials from Damascus argued the Taef agreement referred to a withdrawal to the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon, not an evacuation from the whole country.

But in his magazine interview the president went much further, referring to the full withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese soil. Syria used to have 35,000 troops in Lebanon but the current level is around 13,500. Source.

Wednesday March 2, 2005