Syrian Troops Leave Lebanon, but Influence May Remain

Syria has withdrawn its last troops, ending a 29 year military presence in neighboring Lebanon. Analysts remain concerned that Syrian political and financial influence will continue.

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, | updated: 15:52

Approximately 250 Syrian military and intelligence agents returned across the Syrian-Lebanese border during a small ceremony earlier today in the Bekaa valley, signaling the end to the period of Syrian military occupation of Lebanon.

Until recently, the number of Syrian troops totaled nearly 40,000.

Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976 to help control a civil war between Muslims and Christians which erupted a year earlier. Peace emerged in 1990, but Syrian troops remained in large numbers even after fighting ended, asserting military and political influence over Lebanon.

Pressure for Syrian troops to leave Lebanon emerged recently, when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated on Feb. 14. Many speculate that elements in the Syrian capital of Damascus were behind the murder.

Following the assassination, rallies in Lebanon united cries for Syrian forces to return to their borders. Furthermore, the international community called for the permanent withdrawal of all Syrian troops.

Political turmoil surrounding the withdrawal has led to the formation of a new government. This past week, Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, was forced to appoint Najib Mikati, as interim Lebanese Prime Minister, after the resignation of previous pro-Syrian Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami. New elections appear to be forthcoming.

While the international community at large is pleased with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and the resulting political implications, many are concerned that Syria will continue to exert indirect influence over its small neighbor.

The Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah continues to remain active in Lebanon with direct funding from Damascus.

Dr. Reuven Erlich, director of Israel's Center for Special Studies, said in an interview with World Net Daily, " Important individuals, groups and institutions in Lebanon, centering around Lahoud's government and Hezbollah, serve as important agents for Syrian policy, through which the Syrians will try to advance their interests in the new era [following Syrian withdrawal.]

"However, it would seem that in that new era, Syrian intervention will be far less dominant and obvious. The Syrians will apparently adopt a more sophisticated and complex pattern of influence based on less visibility and control through its proxies behind the scenes."