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Thursday, February 24, 2005 

Syrian Government announces withdrawal

In the last few minutes Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister has announced that Syria will cooperate with the UN Resolution demanding a full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.

This afternoon Syrian troops have started pulling back into the Bekka valley (border region). When the troop movement is complete, it will mean that all 14,000 Syrian troops are next to the border.

Today's annoucement is significant because it came from the Foreign Ministry - its considered one of the most influencial. It's led by Farouq Ash-Shara'a (below), a hang-over from the iron-fist rule of Hafez Al-Assad.

Previous promises of a Lebanese withdrawal had come from the Syrian reformers like President Bashar Al-Assad. But the source of today's announcement adds extra credibility to the Syrian plan.

I believe this had to be long time ago, Syria actually is not benefiting from occupying Lebanon.
We have to do more in order to correct the situation in our country and not engage in other countries problems.
Syria is facing so many challenges internally. Until now , 2005 !!, no one is allowed to speak freely and still the government controlling everything. Syrian GDP is almost 0 last year !!!

Does this mean that the Syrian troops will be completely withdrawan and stationed at the Syrian-side of the border? or are they going to stay in the Bekaa area?

To stranger: I agree Syria faces many problems. The only solution is reform, and despite challenges from some of our government who still believe we live in the 1960s, change will come. Bashar is a determined, progressive optimist. He wants peace and he's inclusive - he hasn't isolated anyone.

I disagree that people can't speak freely. Bashar has been sympathetic to the democracy movement, and has involved his father's opponents. Political prisoners are being released every year - estimates suggest there are between zero and 600 left. There have been very few examples of punishment for campaigners since Bashar came to power.

Syria is not 'occupying' Lebanon. there are 14,000 troops, they're not involved in active engagement, they're not higher in the chain of command than the Lebanese forces, and they are not in control of Lebanon. The US has 100,000 troops stationed in Germany: does America 'occupy' Germany?

The economy desperately needs to open up - and fast. But it is starting albeit painfully slowly, and I'm writing an article about one astonishing example. More soon...

Hi Amr. Today the Syrian Foreign Ministry said they will be completely withdrawn.

Rumours suggest troops would start to move into the Bekka on Saturday. But Lebanon's Defence Minister has said they have already started to move.

To those who dont know Lebanon - the Bekka valley is in Lebanon along the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Stopped by and in my ignorance can't help but wonder if you are in danger for advocating some reform. Although you have a view of a somewhat benign Syria as far as terrorism is concerned and perhaps the government as well what would be wrong with free elections in Syria as a start to reform?

P.S. Few believe that Syria would willfully leave Lebanon w/o pressure.

I'm a strong advocate for reform. The first problem is the economy. The government needs to let go. If elections come first then an autocrat could come to the helm and milk Syria dry. If the economy is loosened first, future leaders will not be able to exploit it.

And Bashar is reforming the economy - it's one of his biggest achievements so far, but its still going too slowly.

People in the west can't see beyond the dogma of democracy. Isn't it better to have a leader who reforms the country, rather than to have a choice of leaders who will exploit the country.

Believe me, one of Hafez al-Assad's biggest achievements was ridding Syria of religious extremists. But they'd be the first into power in a truly free election.

Have a look at www.syriacomment.com he seems to think that Syria's elections (at the lower levels at least) are as free as any in the west. It's only the President that's untouchable.

And I'd have to agree. I've observed the battles for Parliamentary seats, and there's nothing guaranteed there.

Syria's stumbling block is the old guard - the few ministers who still think we live in the 1960s. But slowly and surely Bashar is easing them out. As I've said before, he is a liberal reformist, and actively supports the democracy movements.

It's the old guard who's causing the inertia in Lebanon too - you're right, Syria wont leave without pressure. But Syria has a good track record of complying under pressure. When Jordan pushed them on boundary changes, they eventually agreed. When Clinton pressed them on a Golan peace treaty with Israel they said yes. And most significantly, in the late 90s when Turkey threatened them over a wanted Kurdish leader, they captured him.

Hi again Charles,
Just re-read your comment. You asked if I'm in danger for advocating reform. Absolutely not. Syria is no Saudi Arabia!

When Bashar first came to power 4 years ago, there were 'democracy circles'. People would organise political groups. Grass roots political activism. True democracy - not just putting a tick in a box.

But when Israel bombs Damascus, as it did a year ago, or when America threatens sanctions it strengthens the old guard all over again. National security comes first.

It's just like in Britain and America where there's a real discussion about whether the anti-terror laws harm civil liberty.

Backing a government into a corner isn't the best way to sow the seeds of democracy and freedom.

How kind of you to respond! I am glad I checked back in.

With the news on Lebanon and Syria many are searching the internet and particularly blogs that will help them with insight to the "scene". That was how I came to your site.

I suspect the immediate future will be a boon to writers like you if you have the time because of the attention on the area.

I must mention that a clear identity would be helpful as many like me prefer to read authors whom they can identify. I searched your site a learned virtually nothing about who you are? Why?

For some reason Americans believe that Syria is an accomplice to terrorists and sinister in its territorial motives as well as abetting tyranical governments and political (some terrorist)movements. I have to admit that is what I thought (with a skeptical eye toward whatever the mainstream media in America reports) it is supported by French and many other Euro and Asian media outlets. Are they wrong?

You wrote "one of Hafez al-Assad's biggest achievements was ridding Syria of religious extremists. But they'd be the first into power in a truly free election." If the religious extremists are gone how could they win an election? I thought that Syria was controlled by the Baathists (sp?)of which there are only 12% of the population. Is that wrong?

I believe the new Iraq government has now gelled into a mop up operation and that the Iraqis are in control of their destiny. It served Syrian interests to turn over the members of Saddams government in order to establish a working dialog with what is now considered a conclusive new system in Iraq. I wonder if you believe that Syria would have turned over these folks if Iraq was really unstable and the events in Lebanon (assasination) had not occurred? Just curious.

Hey thanks for taking the time to respond to me.

Halfway across the world in Seattle. (Isn't the internet cool!)

Hi Charles,
It's my pleasure to respond. It's so good to hear from readers of the site, and to meet someone who hasn't made up their mind already. I'm glad you find the site useful.

I understand what you mean about not having a profile, I just didn't think anyone would be interested! I'll sort something out in the next few days.

Yes the current news agenda means my knowledge is in more demand, but believe me, I wish that Syria would be out of the news as it had been for decades.

Ok, down to business...

RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTSIn 1982 the Muslim Brotherhood (one of the forerunners of Al-Qaida) attempted a coup against Syria's secular government. They were brutally put down (it was a massacre, and the saddest part of Syria's post-colonial history).

But one good thing came out of that: it got rid of the extremists, and allowed people to live harmoniously: Christians, Jews and Muslims side by side. 30% of Aleppo is Christian, as is 10% of Damascus.

The rest of the Muslim Brotherhood were exiled, many in Egypt, some in Syrian jails, some in Europe. Syria continues to share a lot of intelligence with the US about the MB/Al-Qaida since 9/11, because they have a detailed knowledge about their movements and thinking. The US has publicly acknowledged Syria's help.

They've gone underground but they still have latent support. They would seize any opportunity to return.

THE BAATH PARTYFirst up: don't even dream of making the mistake of thinking of Saddam! The two parties split in the 60's and never became friends again. They had very frosty relations, and Syria even sent troops for the first Gulf War. They're about as similar as the Germany's Social Democrat government and US Democrats! 'Baath' just means renaisance.

Bashar is an Allawi (that's a very liberal Muslim sect which make up 12% of Syria - NOTHING to do with Iraq's President Iyad Alawi!!). But by no means is the rest of the Baath government all from that sect. A lot of the power in Syria (unfortunately) lies with the old guard: Foreign Minister Sharaa and Defence Minister Tlass. And they are both Sunni (Sunnis make up about 80% of Syria).

But the Government is quite diverse - the former PM was a Kurd. So the support base isn't secular and divisive: it's not minority rule. One's of Syria's sucesses has been involving everyone.

TERRORISMIt's true that Syria supports Hezbollah. Whether you consider them terrorists is a moot point. They killed people during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon (which lasted until 2000) but have never acted inside Israel. They are a political party now, and have 'done an IRA' - the situation's very similar to Sinn Fein.

Let's not forget that the EU still doesn't define Hizbollah as 'terrorists' (but US pressure will change that very soon).

Hamas and Islamic Jihad used to have politi-bureaus in Damascus but under US pressure they were shut a couple of years ago. Leaders were 'asked' to leave, and went to Qatar (in the Gulf) and Jordan! They've outstayed their welcome here. But Western diplomats in Damascus say some of the people are still here. If that's the case, Syria's keeping them on a tight leash - they're just far too costly for Syria.

There's never been a shred of evidence of Syrian-based Hamas/Jihad members in any of the Israeli suicide bombs. It's incredibly opportunistic that Sharon blamed them for last week's Tel Aviv attack - just when the heat is on Syria.

Syria has a lot of control over the Palestinians refugees in Syria (that's something Palestinians resent) - as opposed to Lebanon, where the army daren't venture into the refugee camps!

Does Syria fund anti-Israeli groups? I find it difficult to believe. Syria spouts a lot of pro-Palestinian rhetoric but has consistently shown itself to be selfish. Give us the Golan Heights and we'll normalise our relations says Syria - a full peace treaty, regardless of any Palestinian-Israeli process.

In terms of its territorial motives - Syria has never invaded its neighbours. Yes, soldiers are still in Lebanon, and its gone on too long. They went in to end the civil war, and stayed because of intransigence.

10% of Syria is still occupied by Israel (the Golan Heights). Something has to be done. The two countries were minutes away from signing a peace treaty but then Ariel Sharon came to power. Since then Syria has repeatedly pleaded to go back to the negotiating table - unconditionally. They've offered normal diplomatic relations. It would revolutionise the Middle East. But Bush and Sharon refuse to even look in the direction of the Golan.

Not a single shot has been fired over the Golan dispute since the Kissinger-negotiated peace.

IRAQ/AMERICASyria's desperate to improve its relations with the US. The Hariri assasination changed everything. Syria will have to withdraw from Lebanon, they'll have to show themselves to be actively supporting the new Iraqi government, they may even have to give up the Golan.

Thanks for your interest, I hope I answered some of your questions - keep asking, and hi to Seattle!

Sasa, i have just read your most recent post and i wanted to thank you on educating me!
You do know alot, very impressive, keep posting, im finding it very useful.. what about going into the iraq/syrian connection? what has to be said there?

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  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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