Annhar newspaper demands that Syria
begin withdrawal from Lebanon
(March 23/2000)
(AFP) - In a rare challenge to the country that dominates Lebanon, the popular Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar demanded Thursday that Syria begin withdrawing its troops. An-Nahar also insisted in its bold page one editorial, signed by managingdirector Gebran Tueni, that Lebanon not be sacrificed to Syria indefinitely as the price for peace in the Middle East.
Tueni's open letter to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's son, Bashar, who is in charge of Lebanese matters, called for Damascus to begin pulling some of its 35,000 troops out of this country. It should start by implementing the 1989 Taef accord and moving the troops out of Beirut, he said.
"Doctor Bashar, the people here are asking themselves about Lebanon's future, about the need for the Syrian military presence and wonder if the price of peace in the region is definitive Syrian control over Lebanon."  If that is the solution, "no one will agree to it, especially after 20 years of war and sacrifice" by the Lebanese, Tueni warned. Broaching a subject about which few here have dared to speak openly, Tueni said the Lebanese "believe that Syria never recognized, will never recognize and will not want to recognize that Lebanon is a sovereign, free and independent state."
"I'm taking the liberty of addressing you in this letter although we don't know each other ... at a delicate and decisive time for the region," Tueni wrote, just ahead of Sunday's Syrian-US summit on the Israeli-Syrian peace process and, say analysts, on Lebanon. The editorial asked that Lebanon be a full partner in peace talks with Israel as soon as they resume.
Tueni explained that he was addressing himself to Bashar al-Assad because since he took over the Lebanese portfolio in Damascus, "we felt a change" "which has made us relinquish our hostility" toward the Syrian presence and led us to expect positive steps.
But the Lebanese "reject lists of parliamentary candidates drawn up in Damascus" and "the imprisonment of Lebanese in Damascus's prisons." As an initial goodwill gesture, a "gift" to President Emile Lahoud, Syria should implement "the Taef accord clause stipulating a Syrian military redeployment." The agreement was concluded to end Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war and provided for Syrian troops to leave Beirut two years after Lebanon's constitutional reforms were adopted. Those "asking for this redeployment are neither traitors nor enemies but persecuted citizens who want answers that will dispel their justifiable fears," the letter said.
In order "to convince the Lebanese that there is a new Syrian policy," Syria must help its "allies" in Lebanon, "especially President Lahoud," and not just its "acolytes," Tueni added.  Those who have dared to challenge Syria's presence in Lebanon have been rare, with the notable exception of supporters of former prime minister and general Michel Aoun, who has been in exile in France since 1990.
Maronite Catholic Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has been alone over the years in speaking publicly on the need to implement not only UN Security Council Resolution 425, which calls for Israeli troops to end their occupation of southern Lebanon, but also 520, which includes the Syrians as well.