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Arab League Head: Syria To Reduce Lebanon Force

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 22, 2005; Page A11

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 21 -- The head of the Arab League suggested Monday that Syria would soon begin withdrawing some of the 15,000 troops it has in Lebanon, as tens of thousands of Lebanese held a peaceful demonstration in Beirut to mark the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri one week ago.

Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, made his comments after meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Moussa gave no indication of a timetable for a troop withdrawal, but he said Assad had mentioned his intention to begin redeploying troops several times during their conversation, something demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

Assad has made similar assurances before. The 1989 peace agreement that ended Lebanon's 15-year civil war -- a conflict in which Syria was a major player -- called for Syria to pull back its troops at least to Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley two years after the agreement was implemented. That, in large part, has not happened.

As with Hariri's funeral last week, the rally Monday at his grave in downtown Beirut took on the appearance of an anti-Syrian demonstration, with flags and chants demanding Syria's immediate withdrawal from Lebanon. Many Lebanese blame Syria for Hariri's murder, which came as the country is preparing for parliamentary elections that are shaping up as a referendum on Syria's presence in Lebanon.

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