- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

BEIRUT — Syrian military intelligence started clearing out its headquarters for the Beirut area and vacated other offices in the Lebanese capital and the north yesterday in line with key demands by the United States and Lebanese opposition.

The evacuation of the Syrian intelligence service, a widely resented arm through which Damascus controlled many aspects of Lebanese life, has been a key demand of the opposition, which orchestrated a gigantic demonstration Monday in central Beirut.

Syrian agents appeared to be preparing to leave their headquarters at Ramlet el-Baida on the edge of Beirut. Belongings and furniture were loaded into three trucks.

In the city’s commercial Hamra district, about two dozen Syrian agents vacated an intelligence office during the afternoon, hours after trucks were loaded with furniture and belongings.

The agents, protected by Lebanese police, then drove off in the trucks. A short time later, a doorman hoisted two Lebanese flags at the entrance.

In Lebanon’s second-largest city, Tripoli, men were loading trucks outside the two main offices of Syrian intelligence.

Of all Syrian forces in Lebanon, the intelligence agents are those who deal most directly with Lebanese, setting up checkpoints and making arrests. People must go to them to obtain permits and licenses or even to resolve family disputes. Syrian intelligence agents also have resolved disputes among Lebanese politicians.

Earlier yesterday, about 2,000 pro-Syria demonstrators marched toward the U.S. Embassy in a Beirut suburb, denouncing what they said was American interference in Lebanon. Scores of riot police and soldiers used barbed wire to block the approaches to the compound.

The protesters, waving Lebanese flags and chanting, “Ambassador get out. Leave my country free,” stopped at the barbed wire blocking the road about 500 yards from the fortified hilltop compound.

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