Lebanon Troops Take Position

Published March 05, 2005

| Associated Press

Lebanese army troops took up positions Saturday near the Beirut headquarters of Syrian intelligence but withdrew shortly afterward to a nearby base, hours before Syria's president was expected to announce a pullback of forces in the country.

Lebanese officers said the deployment of the approximately 50 troops, six armored personnel carriers and several trucks in the Ramlet al-Baida (search) southern suburb on the coastal edge of the city, was to provide security and prevent any possible act of intimidation against the Syrians.

Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) was under pressure to announce a full troop withdrawal from Lebanon, but he was only expected to announce a troop pullback to eastern Lebanon (search) near the Syrian border in a speech to parliament in Damascus.

Police also deployed in the area. A police officer at the scene said the measures were "precautionary."

The units later withdrew to a nearby barracks. There was no explanation for that move.

The Lebanese army had earlier deployed about 150 yards from the Beau Rivage Hotel that houses the main Syrian intelligence units for the Beirut area.

There was no sign, however, that the Syrian intelligence agents were preparing to leave.

"Nothing is happening. Everything is normal," said one Syrian intelligence officer.

About eight intelligence agents at another post one block away from the main headquarters stopped reporters and asked them not to tour the area.

The Syrian intelligence offices in Beirut have been the subject of harsh criticism from opposition politicians in recent weeks. The country is still seething with anger after the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search), which some opposition politicians have blamed on Lebanese and Syrian governments. Both governments deny involvement.

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