Assad addresses parliament today: Syria may announce Lebanon pullout
* British FM says Syria risks ‘pariah’ status
* UK says UN peacekeepers may help Syria leave Lebanon
BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to announce on Saturday the pullout of some Syrian troops from Lebanon and the redeployment of the rest close to the border, a Lebanese political source said on Friday.
Assad, who delivers a speech at Syria’s parliament on Saturday, is expected to declare the move in line with the Taif Accord which ended Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, the source said.
Taif stipulates Syrian forces redeploy to the eastern Bekaa Valley and then the Lebanese and Syrian governments agree on a timeline on how long these forces would stay. Syrian officials had no comment on the report.
Assad told Time magazine in an interview published this week that Syria’s 14,000 troops might pull out of Lebanon in the next few months, the timing being technical rather than political.
Saudi Arabia added a key Arab voice on Thursday to mounting demands that Syria withdraw its troops swiftly from Lebanon. Another Arab heavyweight, Egypt, also wants Assad to pull out his 14,000 troops.
Syria risks ‘pariah’ status: Syria risks being “treated as a pariah” by the rest of the world if it fails to act swiftly to withdraw its military forces from Lebanon, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Friday.
“Syria really does face a strategic choice,” said Straw on BBC radio as he added Britain’s voice to an international chorus calling on Damascus to withdraw its 14,000 troops in the face of popular protests in Beirut. “If they pull their forces out, then they have got to do it in a sensible, swift but phased way,” he said. “Then they can come back into the fold of the international community. If they don’t, they really will be treated as a pariah - not just by the West, but by most of their Arab neighbours.”
He ruled out foreign military intervention to force Syria out of Lebanon, saying: “There is absolutely no suggestion of military action, absolutely none.”
But he mentioned that “there could be some more (UN) peacekeeping troops”, reinforcing those already deployed in the south of the country, if and when Syria troops go home.
“We need real democracy in Lebanon,” the foreign secretary said. “You can only have democracy if the government has complete control on its territory - and that’s not the case.” Straw’s remarks were significant, given attempts by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to reach out to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who, in December 2002, paid the first-ever official visit to Britain by a Syrian leader.
“We are seeing what some people could describe as another velvet revolution,” said Straw, referring to the peaceful transition to democracy in the Czech Republic in November and December 1989.
“It is very exciting that these developments are taking place in the Middle East, which many people thought was going to be the last area in the world to accept democracy.” Straw also said that he saw “extraordinary irony” in the fact that the Lebanon crisis has brought France and the United States - which fell out badly over the Iraq war two years ago - “completely back together again”.
“Resolution 1559 was a joint US-French Security Council resolution which we (Britain) backed,” he said. “France and the US have been working very closely on this, and this is another reason why Syria has got to stop and think,” he said. agencies