Buoyed by Monday's massive anti-Syrian rally, which drew as many
as 1 million flag-waving protesters, the Lebanese opposition has
turned its attention squarely on Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian
president of Lebanon.
As his Syrian backers leave Beirut in growing numbers, and he's
unable to build a new government, the future for Mr. Lahoud looks
The opposition demands that Mr. Lahoud quit his office along with
seven top security chiefs whom they blame for last month's murder of
Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister.
Those calls are being supported by many independent political
figures who say that only the departure of Lahoud and the security
chiefs will spare this tiny Mediterranean nation from further
political and economic turmoil.
"Whatever happens, the political impasse continues unless Lahoud
resigns," says Chibli Mallat, a professor of international law at
Beirut's St. Joseph University and a democracy campaigner. "We are
working to widen the message that the people gave on Monday. We won
the battle of sovereignty now we need to win the battle of
In an apparent response to the pressure, Brigadier General Jamil
Sayyed, the powerful head of the General Security Directorate, and
one of the seven security chiefs named by the opposition, announced
Thursday that he and his colleagues would make themselves available
for a judicial inquiry into Mr. Hariri's murder.
"All chiefs of the security organs are ready to stand trial
because we don't have any secrets," General Sayyed told a news
The political deadlock comes as a Lebanese Army officer confirmed
Thursday that Syria has completed the first phase of a redeployment
that will eventually see the withdrawal of all Syrian soldiers and
military intelligence agents from Lebanon.
Syria first began redeploying its troops on March 8 after the
Feb. 14 assassination of Hariri, whose death in a powerful explosion
brought intense international pressure on Damascus to remove its
14,000 troops from Lebanon. It also sparked huge street
demonstrations both for and against Syrian involvement.
The first part of the two-phase withdrawal involved the
redeployment of the remaining Syrian forces in Beirut, in Tripoli in
the north, and in the mountains above the capital to east of the
Hammana-Mdeirej-Ain Dara line that runs along the mountain ridge
separating the Lebanese coast from the Bekaa Valley.
According to the Lebanese Army officer, about 4,000 Syrian
soldiers have returned to Syria. "There are now between 9,000 and
10,000 Syrian troops in the Bekaa," he says.
The duration of their stay in the Bekaa will be resolved at a
meeting of senior Syrian and Lebanese Army officers scheduled for
April 7. The international community has demanded a full withdrawal
of Syrian forces from Lebanon before parliamentary elections which
are due to be held before the end of May.
But the political paralysis has cast into doubt whether elections
can be held at all.
Omar Karami, the Lebanese prime minister, began consultations
with parliamentarians on Tuesday to form a new government, so far
without success. Mr. Karami resigned from the premiership on Feb. 28
in the face of mass protests in the streets of Beirut. But he was
reappointed by Lahoud two weeks later when no other alternative
candidate for the premiership came forward.
Still, Karami has declared that he will resign again if he is
unable to create a government of national unity which includes
members of the opposition. …