Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Syrian redeployment window dressing

A pullback of Syrian troops from hills near Beirut, set in motion Tuesday, aimed at appeasing the United States and avoiding further international action after the U.N. Security Council demanded their departure.

Syria is shifting only about 3,000 of its 20,000 soldiers in Lebanon - not bringing them home - and such redeployment is not likely to satisfy the U.S., Israel, the U.N. Security Council, or Lebanese critics of Syria's presence here.

A Lebanese military official confirmed the pullback had begun. But by Tuesday evening there was no outward sign of troop movement in the areas to be included in the first stage of redeployment: the hilly coastal towns of Aramoun, Chuwiefat, Damour, Doha and Khaldeh, south of Beirut, and Dhourt al-Chouair to the north.

At Dhour al-Chouair, 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Beirut, Syrian soldiers seen through the gate of the camp appeared to be going about usual chores - cooking dinner, gathering wood. Soldiers at the gate expressed surprise at the sudden appearance of journalists and ordered them to leave.

The Lebanese military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said troops in the Beirut area would be moved away from the capital to new positions still inside Lebanon. The redeployment should be complete within a few days, the official told The Associated Press."