Peres: Israel hopes for free and democratic Lebanon living in peace
Syria tells UN pullout is complete; Syrian commander to Lebanese troops: Brothers in arms, so long.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Tuesday that Israel hopes a free and democratic Lebanon, taking security control of border areas where Hezbollah is deployed, would emerge following Syria's withdrawal from the country.
"The whole world is crossing its fingers," Vice Premier Shimon Peres told reporters.
"After the Syrian occupation of Lebanon comes to an end, we hope to see the Hizbollah occupation end as well," said Peres, "and that we will see a free and democratic Lebanon living in peace and prosperity next to us.
Syria informed the United Nations on Tuesday that it had completed the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon in line with Security Council resolution 1559.
Syria "would like to officially inform you that the Syrian Arab forces stationed in Lebanon, at the request of Lebanon and under an Arab mandate, have fully withdrawn all their military, security apparatus and assets to their positions in Syria on the 26th of April, 2005," Syria's Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said in a letter to the world body.
Shara wrote the withdrawal implements "the relevant provisions in Security Council Resolution 1559."
However, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that even if the Syrian withdrawal is verified, other provisions of the resolution have not yet been met, including the disarming of Hezbollah.
In an earlier farewell ceremony marking the end of the 29-year Syrian military presence in Lebanon, a Syrian commander told Lebanese troops: "Brothers in arms, so long."
A token Syrian force of some 250 soldiers, the remnants of a deployment which once numbered some 40,000, were the last to leave following the ceremony, at which a Lebanese officer told them: "Brothers in arms, thank you for your sacrifices." His soldiers repeated, "Thank you for your sacrifices."
The Lebanese Army assumed sole control over most of Lebanese territory after Syria withdrew the last of its forces.
The Syrians entered Lebanon in 1976, ostensibly as peacekeepers in the year-old civil war. After the war ended in 1990, about 40,000 Syrian troops remained, giving Damascus the decisive say in Lebanese politics.
Anger over the February 14 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri helped turn the tide against Syria's longtime presence in Lebanon.
Unconvinced by Syrian and Lebanese government denials of involvement, pressure to leave snowballed. Huge "Syria Out" demonstrations in Beirut brought down the pro-Syrian government, and UN and U.S. pressure intensified on Damascus until it withdrew its army.
Gen. Ali Habib, Syria's chief of staff, said in a speech during the departure ceremony in which the last 250 Syrian soldiers in Lebanon participated, that Assad had decided to pull out his troops after the Lebanese army was "rebuilt on sound national foundations and became capable of protecting the state."
Habib said Syria had no "ambitions in Lebanon, except to protect it."
By withdrawing, he said that Syria will have "fulfilled all its obligations toward" UN Resolution 1559, which called on it to pull out.
In the capital, Beirut, meanwhile, relatives of Lebanese prisoners held in Syrian jails scuffled with the army and beat lawmakers' cars with the Lebanese flag during a demonstration Tuesday outside parliament demanding the release of their loved ones. Two protesters were seen being loaded into a Civil Defense ambulance while two others received first aid on the scene of the demonstration in downtown Beirut.
The farewell ceremony came as Lebanon's new Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, went to Parliament Tuesday to seek a vote of confidence.
It opened with Lebanese and Syrian military commanders placing a wreath of flowers at a cornerstone they laid for a monument to commemorate the Syrian military presence in Lebanon. As military honors were read out, troops punctuated the ceremony with chants supportive of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The 250 Syrian soldiers in red berets and camouflage, the last Syrian troops remaining in Lebanon, shouted "we sacrifice our blood and our souls for you, oh Bashar!" during the ceremony at the army air base at Rayak, a few kilometers from the Syrian border.
With the Syrians leaving, its Lebanese allies in the security services also were collapsing. Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed - often described as the enforcer of Damascus' policy - announced his resignation, and another top security commander left the country with his family.
The headquarters of Syrian military intelligence, at the border in the Bekaa town of Anjar, was a stark symbol of Damascus' power - the site where it decided policy in Lebanon, including who ran for office, who became a cabinet minister and who was arrested.
A convoy of about a dozen vehicles pulled out of the site before sundown, heading for the nearby Masnaa border crossing on its way to Syria. The top Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Rustom Ghazale, was in the convoy, witnesses said - though he was expected to return to participate in the farewell ceremony.
Lebanese troops took over the vacated positions in Anjar, apparently to prevent a repeat of celebrations by residents and anti-Syrian activists, who in evacuations of other sites have quickly swept in with Lebanese flags and paint to erase Syrian military symbols.
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan dispatched a team to verify whether Syria has withdrawn all its troops from Lebanon, as it promised to do under an agreement with the United Nations. The verification team will be led by Senegalese Brig. Gen. Mouhamadou Kandji, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Another UN team of logistic and communications experts will arrive in Beirut later in the week to lay the groundwork for a probe into former premier Rafik Hariri's assassination.