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February 24, 2005
Syria Begins Backpedaling, Hoping To Retain Influence In Lebanon

Syria has reacted with surprise to the eruption of criticism and scorn towards their occupation of Lebanon following the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and now wants to follow a 16-year-old plan for phased withdrawal of its troops. Reuters reports that Syria's defense ministry is now expressing "keen interest" in complying with UN resolutions calling for the end of the Syrian occupation:

Tens of thousands of Lebanese have taken to the streets to protest against Syria's military and political grip on its tiny neighbor since a huge bomb killed Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut last week.

"Syria expresses its keen interest in cooperating with the envoy of the secretary-general of the United Nations to accomplish his mission in the best formula possible," Mualem told reporters, reading from a statement.

"The important withdrawals that have been carried out so far and will be carried out later will be done in agreement with Lebanon against the backdrop of the Taif Accord and the mechanisms it entails," he said.

The Taif Accord has largely been forgotten by both the Syrians and the UN as Syria stubbornly hung onto its vassal state in order to prop up Hezbollah in its proxy war against the Israelis. Now, however, Syria faces massive demonstrations on the streets of Beirut and a coordinated effort from France and America in accounting for its extended oppression of the Lebanese. Even the deputy defense minister expressed his surprise that these calls for Lebanon's independence have come outside the framework of the UN -- another indication that despots count on Turtle Bay for their political cover:

Mualem said both officials and ordinary Syrians were surprised by the "media and political escalation that came before the completion of the mission of the U.N. envoy."

Jim Geraghty at TKS has more on the assassination which might explain the impulse to finally bypass the UN to resolve Lebanon's status:

Last night I spoke to a very smart guy who follows Lebanon-Syria issues closely about the Rafik Hariri assassination and various Middle Eastern issues.

First, a couple of details about the bomb that killed him. It used something in the neighborhood of 650 pounds of TNT not the kind of bomb that a bunch of amateurs can easily assemble in a basement.

The crater was centered in the middle of the road, indicating the bomb was likely placed under the street and not in a parked car.

The bomb was placed at curve, where the motorcade would have had to slow down. The assassins obviously had to know Hariris schedule and the route he would be traveling. The Syrian-backed Lebanese government security forces were responsible for Hariris safetly, and would have that information.

Hariris motorcade included jammers designed to disrupt signals that could detonate a bomb, gadgets that usually interfered with cellular phone reception in the surrounding area. Somehow, the bombers either used a wire-triggered bomb or had gotten their hands on a counter-device placed in a nearby vehicle.

All of this and more add up to state sponsorship, and since Syria had tactical and political responsibility for Hariri's security, it looks like Syria knocked him off, for whatever reasons. Apparently the Lebanese people agree; the notoriously fractious and diverse populations have united to call for a complete withdrawal of both Syrian military and intelligence personnel as well as the resignation of the current pro-Syrian government in Beirut. Syria and the current Lebanese government both question Lebanon's ability to secure its own borders, but Hariri's assassination shows that having Syria and Hezbollah as security agents only put Lebanon under the terrorists' thumb.

France and the US needs to keep the heat on Syria and force the immediate withdrawal as well as the disarming of Hezbollah, although the latter will likely leave with their Syrian sponsors. When tyrannies fall, their collaborators almost always wind up against the wall in their wake. The Syrian offer to take up a withdrawal agreement sixteen years dead demonstrates the desperation of the Assad regime to hang onto a toehold in Lebanon, a desperation that belies a fundamental insecurity about the future of their own regime in Damascus should Lebanon escape their clutches.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 24, 2005 1:31 PM

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Update: Captain's Quarters gives more context on the Karameh's possible resignation as Lebanese PM. [Read More]

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» If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out from DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS
BEBEAUX UPDATES II: Captain Ed agrees: "The Syrian offer to take up a withdrawal agreement sixteen years dead demonstrates the desperation of the Assad regime to hang onto a toehold in Lebanon... [Read More]

Tracked on February 24, 2005 4:19 PM

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