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Syrian and Lebanese presidents meet over troo -

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Syrian and Lebanese presidents meet over troops withdrawal

Reporter: Mark Willacy

TONY JONES: Well, As we've just heard, the Lebanese President, Emile Lahoud, has been meeting with
his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad. Their summit has paved the way for the start of a two-part
withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. It's estimated that the first stage of redeployment will
involve 5,000 Syrian soldiers pulling back to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, and within days
it's expected that another 15,000 troops will then withdraw to the border itself. The removal of
the Syrian troops comes after extreme international and domestic pressure following last month's
assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafiq Hariri. Well, joining me now for an update on the
situation is our Middle East correspondent, Mark Willacy. Now, Mark, Reuters news agency is
reporting some Syrian troops are already leaving the country. Just how quickly could we expect a
full withdrawal?

MARK WILLACY: Well, as you say, Tony, Reuters are saying that Syrian troops are already pulling
back from around Beirut. So they're heading east, towards the Bekaa Valley - that's stage one of
the pull-out. Stage two is the important part, though. That's when the troops are scheduled to move
further east towards the Syria-Lebanon border. The big issue here, though, is: will it be a full
withdrawal? We heard a very vague but calculated speech by Bashar Al Assad on the weekend. He is
saying that there will be a redeployment. We don't know when that will fully happen and we don't
know whether those troops will go completely over the border or whether some will perch themselves
on the border as some Lebanese fear.

TONY JONES: In the meantime, Hezbollah has nailed its colours to the mast. It's calling for mass
rallies against the Syrian troop withdrawal. How much trouble could they cause for the new Lebanese
government?

MARK WILLACY: They could cause a little bit of trouble. Hezbollah has seats in the Lebanese
Parliament. It's very powerful. In fact, it basically runs southern Lebanon. It has militias there,
it runs charities, schools, hospitals in southern Lebanon. It shells Israeli military positions as
well as Israeli villagers from there. So it's seen as a champion of that cause against Israel which
many Lebanese look to it for. It's fairly restricted to that area, but if as planned there are mass
rallies in support of Syria organised by Hezbollah in Beirut later today, then that could cause
some problems. Because as we've seen in last few weeks, the streets in Beirut have been owned by
the anti-Syria forces, the demonstrators there. So if those two groups clash, well, we could see
some violence and there is a fear that that could trigger something.

TONY JONES: It also begs the question of whether this is going to lead to a weakening or a
strengthening of Hezbollah's position in southern Lebanon and the question, obviously, is whether
they will just be regarded as a Syrian client militia.

MARK WILLACY: Well, of course, Syria does, according to the Americans and the Israelis, Syria does
finance, train and arm Hezbollah, as does Iran. It is, as we say, very powerful in southern
Lebanon, but its influence really doesn't extend too far outside of there. It does have seats in
the Parliament as we say, but it's really a case of if a new government is installed and that
government wants the Syrian troops out, it pushes for a reduction in the Syrian influence in
Lebanon, then really, that could negate any pro-Syria push by Hezbollah.

TONY JONES: Alright, Mark Willacy, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.