Lebanese Call For Syrian Withdrawal

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Less than three weeks after Israel pulled its troops out of south Lebanon, there are increasing calls for Syria to do the same.

The publisher of a popular Beirut newspaper, An-Nahar, launched a blistering attack on Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara. In an editorial, Jibran Tounai dismissed Shara's reasoning for continued Syrian presence in his country.

Tounai said that Shara had not appreciated the widespread support for his earlier call for Syria to quit Lebanon.

Tounai's attack was prompted by Shara's comments in an interview on Tuesday, in which he said that Syria would only leave Lebanon if asked to do so by the government in Beirut and not at the behest of foreign governments or the media.

With some 35,000 troops stationed in Lebanon, Syria is the main powerbroker there. At least a million Syrians also work in the country.

Tounai also challenged his own government to clarify Shara's comments that sectarian violence would erupt in Lebanon if Syria withdrew.

After the arrival of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization in the early 70's, warring militias fought a fierce civil war in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. Syria moved in several years later, ostensibly to restore order.

The editorial appeared one day after Shara met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Cairo. In comments to reporters, Albright let it be known that Washington also wants Syrian troops out of Lebanon.

"These are international obligations, and the Israelis have lived up to them. I think it would be good if everybody else did also," she said.

Israel withdrew it troops from south Lebanon to the international border last month according to the 1978 United Nations resolution 425 after maintaining an 18-year vigil there against cross-border attacks.

The 1982 UN resolution 520 calls on all foreign forces to leave Lebanon.

Lebanon's Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir also called this week for Syrian troops to leave his country, saying it was the only way for the Lebanese to "regain their liberty."

"Our country is not considered to be totally independent or sovereign," Sfeir was quoted as saying in the French newspaper La Croix. "Decision-making is not in our hands but in Syrian hands," he said.

Along the Lebanese-Israeli Frontier

Meanwhile, the United Nations has charged that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon is not yet complete. It is waiting for Israel to make one final border alteration before the UN Interim Forces In Lebanon begins the process of verifying that Israel has totally pulled out.

Israel "deviated" from the UN map in one spot, according to UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel. Although Goksel said he was personally unfamiliar with the area, he believed it to be an "empty space."

UNIFIL said that Israel had confirmed it was looking into the matter.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office issued a statement saying that Israel had asked UNIFIL "to send in advance verification teams so that they can establish finally that Israel is positioned on the international border with Lebanon in coordination with UN resolution 425."

Split in Two

Another problem area is the Arab village of Rajar. Residents were shocked this week when a UN border marking team started laying stones through the middle of their village.

The village was captured by Israel from Syria, but according to historical maps, half of the village actually lies in Lebanon. Its occupants are members of the Allawite Muslim sect to which Syrian President Hafez Assad belongs. They are now afraid that their village will be cut in half.

"We do not belong to Lebanon, we belong to Syria," Rajar's mayor Najib Hijazi was quoted as saying. "We never were in Lebanon, and we don't understand how we were transferred to Lebanon."

According to the wishes of the Lebanese, Goksel said, the international border that was in place in 1923 must be restored. UNIFIL "has to respect the wishes of the sovereign [country]. We don't impose borders."

By way of solution, Goksel said, the UN will place a color reference stone in the village and the residents will know that north of it is Lebanon and south of it is "Israeli-occupied Syria."

"We know it can create social problems," he said, but Goksel gave assurances that the UN is not going to erect a fence.

The villagers, who were Syrian citizens, found themselves stranded as a result of the Six-Day War. They were not welcome to enter Lebanon with Syrian passports, and the road to Syria was blocked by the Israelis. Residents then went to Israel and asked the Jewish state to take over the village. They subsequently accepted Israeli citizenship.