Syria has completed the first phase of the withdrawal of its occupying forces from Lebanon. 4000 troops returned to Syria and another 4000 were
redeployed to East Lebanon in preparation for the final pullout. But Hezbollah, also known as the "Islamic Resistance", has defied a U.N mandate and
demands from Washington to disarm citing deterrence of Israeli aggression as justification.
The source says 8,000 to 10,000 Syrian troops remain in the eastern Bekaa Valley while 4,000 to 6,000 have returned home. He says a joint
Lebanese-Syrian committee is expected to meet in early April to discuss the future of the troops in the Bekaa.Witnesses say the last two Syrian
intelligence centres in the coastal city of Tripoli were completely emptied at dawn.
But pro-Syrian demonstrators have also turned out in large numbers. Hezbollah brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets last week in a
show of force in Lebanon, where it has parliament members and runs charities. Hezbollah says it will not lay down its guns in line with a UN Security
Council resolution that calls for foreign forces to leave Lebanon and for all militias there to disarm.
[Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah] said Hezbollah, which helped force Israel to end its 22-year occupation of south Lebanon in 2000, would use
its weapons only against Israel, not in Lebanon. Hezbollah is the only faction to retain its arms openly since the civil war.
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The Syrian pullout has been surprisingly smooth and free from incident. Details of the second phase will be worked out in April by a joint
Lebanese-Syrian military commission. And so attention now turns increasingly to the pro-Syrian Hezbollah. Hezbollah was established by Lebanese
clerics in 1982 to oppose the Israeli invasion of the same year and is predominantly financed by Iran. In recent times, Hezbollah has clashed with the
Israeli military over the Shebaa Farms area which is occupied by Israeli and is regarded by the United Nations as Syrian territory.
Bush has offered to remove Hezbollah from Washington's list of terrorist groups in exchange for total disarmament. Hezbollah responded by demanding
that the U.S ask Israel to cease its warplane flights over Lebanon and to release its Lebanese detainees. Prior to 9/11 Hezbollah, with its familiar
banner of a fist clutching a raised AK-47, topped Washington's terrorist organization list. It will be interesting to see how much clout they gain in
the government once the political dust has settled.
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