- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 23, 2005

BEIRUT — The last Syrian troops will leave Lebanon today after 29 years, a senior Lebanese military officer said, the result of fierce domestic and international outrage after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The announcement was made as the largest number of Syrian troops to leave Lebanon at one time vacated at least 10 positions in the northern part of the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon last night.

In pouring rain, dozens of trucks carrying hundreds of soldiers and at least 150 armored vehicles towing artillery and rocket launchers were seen heading to the Lebanese-Syrian Masnaa border point, witnesses said.

“Tomorrow, everything will be over,” the military officer said yesterday on the condition of anonymity. Lebanese military officers rarely speak on the record.

He did not elaborate, but it appeared that the withdrawal would include the Anjar base in eastern Lebanon occupied by Syria’s chief of military intelligence in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Rustom Ghazale.

The same officer had said last week that Gen. Ghazale would evacuate Anjar by Tuesday. The withdrawal of Syrian intelligence officers along with the military has been a key demand of the Lebanese opposition.

Mr. Hariri’s son, meanwhile, said he will run in Lebanon’s general election scheduled to take place by the end of May.

In an interview with CNN, Saad Hariri also said he had “full confidence” in a U.N. investigation into the Feb. 14 assassination of his father.

“I do intend to run,” Mr. Hariri replied, answering a question about parliamentary elections set to be held by May 29. “I do intend to prove myself. I do intend to work hard. I do intend to achieve my father’s cause.”

Syria began withdrawing its troops from Lebanon last month in the wake of Mr. Hariri’s killing.

The assassination, for which the Lebanese opposition blamed the Lebanese government and Syrian intelligence, threw the nation into political turmoil, driving out the pro-Syrian government and forcing Syria to begin withdrawing its troops. Syrian and Lebanese authorities have denied involvement in the killing.

As of yesterday morning, about 1,000 Syrian troops remained in Lebanon. The force stood at 14,000 troops in February, indicating the swiftness of the pullout.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week that he was delaying the release of a report on Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon until Tuesday so the United Nations could confirm the pullout of all Syrian forces.

In September, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution calling on Syria to withdraw all its troops and intelligence operatives.

The United States also has been pushing Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon and stop interfering in the country’s politics.

Syria sent troops to its smaller neighbor in 1976 to help quell what was then a year-old civil war, but the troops remained after the war ended in 1990. Damascus has been seen as holding the strings in Lebanese politics ever since.

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