March 4, 2005

FOCUS: Syria and Lebanon

By Jodi Wynn,

The February 14 assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri has heightened tensions along the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

Hariri was a longtime opponent of President Emile Lahoud, who welcomed the ongoing presence of 14,000 Syrian troops in his country.

Hariri resigned as prime minister in October 2004 to protest efforts to extend Lahoud’s presidential term by three years. Omar Karami, who supported Lahoud’s pro-Syrian policies, was quickly appointed to fill Hariri’s position.

Protestors blamed Lahoud’s government and Syria for Hariri’s death. No one has yet been charged, but Karami resigned following demonstrations.

Syria originally sent peacekeeping troops to Lebanon during the 1975-90 civil war, which was ended by the Taif Accord. The agreement brought Sunni and Shia Muslims into the Christian-dominated government and called for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

Syria neglected to leave, and with its troops continues to wield strong — and controversial — influence in Lebanon and the region.

[Israel is particularly sensitive to the issue, due in part to disputes over the Shaba Farms territory, and also as a result of terrorist operations that are periodically launched from Lebanon’s borders.]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces accusations by the Bush administration and Israel that his country is a haven for Iraqi insurgents and terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

The latter group is considered a prime suspect in the February 25 suicide bombing outside a nightclub in Israel.

The U.S. and France have issued clear warnings for Assad to withdraw from Lebanon immediately, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt joining the chorus.

Although a columnist for An-Nahar said the Arab nations are “trying to avoid a total internationalization of the crisis,” the conflict is already playing out on the world stage.

In 2004, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1559, which aimed to disarm militant groups operating out of Syria, and strengthen Lebanese self-governance.

The Syrian foreign minister said late last week that Syria is ready to implement the resolution and the Taif Accord.

But the Higher Shiite Council of Lebanon disapproved of the resolution, claiming that it would divide the country and weaken Hezbollah, which it sees as part of a larger Arab conflict with Israel.

“Any attempt to disarm the resistance falls within the framework of an Israeli project,” the council said.

[Additional writing by the editors.]

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“Former Lebanese prime minister assassinated”
Associated Press, February 15, 2005

“Out of Lebanon: Ending Syrian control could change the Middle Easte – but it won’t be easy”
National Review Online, March 1, 2005

“Hariri’s dreams for a new Lebanon unfulfilled”
Reuters, February 15, 2005

“Bush says world demands that Syria pull out of Lebanon”
New York Times, March 2, 2005

“Demonstrations continue in Lebanon”
Associated Press, March 3, 2005

“Opposition call for action over assassination”
Independent Online (South Africa), February 21, 2005

“Lebanese PM resigns in face of mass protests”
Agence France Press, February 28, 2005

“Civil War in Lebanon, 1975-1992”
Journal of Third World Studies, Spring 2001

“The Taif Accord”
Financial Times, March 2, 2005

“Suicide bombing kills at least 4 at Tel Aviv club”
New York Times, February 26, 2005

“Lebanese sources: Lebanese army foils bid to fire rockets at Israel”
Haaretz (Israel), March 4, 2005

“Bush calls for full Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon by May”
Haaretz (Israel), March 4, 2005

“Let Assad have the Shaba Farms”
Women and Mothers for Peace, May 6, 2001

“Following Tel Aviv attack: Israel delays transfer of cities, blames Syria”
Al Bawaba, February 27, 2005

“Rice: Syria behind Tel Aviv bombing”
United Press International, March 2, 2005

“U.S. skeptical of Syria pledge on Lebanon withdrawal”
Reuters, March 3, 2005

“Syria shows strain of outside pressure”
New York Times, March 3, 2005

“Saudis to Syria: Withdraw from Lebanon”
Associated Press, March 3, 2005

“Syria seeks Arab solution in Lebanon”
Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2005

United Nations Press Release SC/8181, February 9, 2004

“Who are Hezbollah?”
BBC Online, April 4, 2002

“Syria to redeploy troops in Lebanon ‘Within Hours'”
IOL/mks, February 25, 2005

“Higher Shiite Council calls 1559 a ‘strife project'”
Daily Star (Lebanon), March 3, 2005

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