Israel welcomes Syrian pledge to redeploy forces in Lebanon

JERUSALEM (AP) Israel welcomes a Syrian announcement that it will pull back its forces in Lebanon, a senior official said Thursday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said, "Israel supports implementation U.N. Security Council 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces and the disarming of all the militias, including Hezbollah." In Damascus, the Syrian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Syria would withdraw its troops from Lebanon in line with a 1989 accord. While the statement did not indicate a new policy, it appeared to be a reaction to international pressure for a Syrian pullout after the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut. Syria has been widely blamed for the killing. Syria has 15,000 troops in Lebanon and is the main power broker there. "Syria once again affirms its commitment to implement the (1989) Taif agreement and the bilateral agreements between Lebanon and Syria," the Foreign Ministry statement said, the first since the assassination. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel would have to study the Syrian declaration to determine if it promised a real change. Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2000 after an 18-year guerrilla war against Hezbollah. The United Nations drew the border between Israel and Lebanon, but Hezbollah disputes part of it and periodically attacks Israeli forces guarding that part of the line. Regev said, "Israel has done its part to implement U.N. resolutions when we pulled out of Lebanon, and I think now the international community is waiting for Syria to do its part." Associated Press

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