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Many Syrians Say It's Time to Quit Lebanon ^ | Sun Nov 21 | Mariam Karouny

Posted on 11/22/2004 6:04:44 AM PST by crushelits

DAMASCUS, Syria (Reuters) - Twenty years ago Ahmed Shukmarra went to Lebanon as one of tens of thousands of Syrian soldiers, believing his presence would help halt a civil war in Syria's small neighbor.

Today he sees no reason why roughly 14,000 soldiers, part of a force first deployed in 1976, should stay in Lebanon, particularly given increasing pressure from Washington and the United Nations (news - web sites) for them to withdraw.

"We went there to stop Lebanese from fighting but why we are still there ... This I can't understand," said 43-year-old Shukmarra, who left the army and now owns a clothes shop.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Syria, accusing Damascus of supporting "terrorist" organizations, insisting it should stop controlling Lebanon and saying that it must renounce weapons of mass destruction.

Many Syrians feel that interference in Lebanon could work against Syria and that it is time to leave Beirut alone.

"I have Lebanese relatives, I like Lebanon but not as much as I love Syria," said 23-year-old student Khadijah Neaman.

"If staying in Lebanon will harm us then we should leave. It's a logical thing to do. Whether Syrian troops are there or not we will always be relatives and we will always have a special relationship," she said.

In September, the United States and France drafted U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 condemning foreign interference in Lebanon and calling for foreign forces to withdraw, a call the council repeated last month.

Syria was not mentioned by name in the resolution, but its role as the main power broker in Lebanon has been openly criticized by Security Council members.

"I think that until Syria makes up her mind to let Lebanon be Lebanon, then the international community will continue to focus on it," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said last month.


Inside Lebanon itself, many are fiercely critical of the influence Damascus wields over Beirut.

Parliament recently changed the constitution to allow pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to extend his term -- a move which resolution 1559 tried to pre-empt -- and a newly installed government is seen as having been chosen for its loyalty to Damascus.

Since resolution 1559, many Lebanese groups have spoken openly about the need for Damascus to withdraw.

Others, including the Shi'ite Muslim guerrilla group Hizbollah which is backed by Damascus, have argued that a Syrian presence in Lebanon is necessary to preserve national unity and to help resistance against Israel, which until 2000 occupied southern Lebanon.

Some Syrians said the Lebanese did not appreciate the benefits of their involvement, and cited that as another reason why Syria should pull out.

"We have always helped them, but why would we get ourselves into trouble for people who don't like us and don't want us to be there?" said Najdat, a taxi driver.

"When someone does not welcome you then why would you keep offering help?"

Syria redeployed some 3,000 troops in September from the outskirts of Beirut toward the border, a move analysts said was aimed at easing international pressure.

But both Beirut and Damascus have repeatedly said they will not accept outside interference in Lebanese affairs and that only they will decide when Syria should withdraw.

"What is between the two countries is governed by history, geography, borders, people, trade and everything," said Syrian political science professor Imad al-Shuaibi.

Shuaibi said those calling for a full withdrawal were only doing so to pressure Syria, not out of concern for Lebanon's right to sovereignty.

"What I have against this presence is that it's a military one. It should have been a presence based on interests for two countries and based on trust as well," said Michael Kilo, a Syrian opposition figure. "This is not the case now."

Some Syrians see Lebanon as a weak country unable to cope alone and support their government's decision to stay in Lebanon.

"History showed us that Lebanon can't survive without the help from Syria, that is why we were one country," said merchant Ahmed al-Ali.

For others the overriding concern is what will happen to them if Syria continues to defy international opinion.

"We sacrificed our blood for that country, we lost good men in that land but the question is ... do we have to lose more blood for it? What for?" Shukmarra said.

"I don't think we should."

KEYWORDS: itstime; lebanon; middleeast; quit; say; southwestasia; syria; syrians

1 posted on 11/22/2004 6:04:45 AM PST by crushelits
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To: crushelits

And besides all the political pressure from Washington, there's the pressure from all those student protests decrying the decades-long occupation of Lebanon. Right?



2 posted on 11/22/2004 6:08:42 AM PST by Gefreiter ("Flee...into the peace and safety of a new dark age." HP Lovecraft)
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To: crushelits

Like the Syrian people have any say in what their government does...

3 posted on 11/22/2004 6:11:26 AM PST by SoFloFreeper
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To: SoFloFreeper
Like the Syrian people have any say in what their government does...

Exactly...who writes this drivel?

4 posted on 11/22/2004 7:34:43 AM PST by Tallguy
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