Hussein Malla  /  AP
An anti-Syrian protester carries a Lebanese flag on Sunday at the site of the explosion in an industrial zone of the mainly Christian neighborhood in Beirut.
updated 3/27/2005 10:39:30 PM ET 2005-03-28T03:39:30

Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud pledged on Sunday to fight the violence gripping his country after three bombings in eight days raised fears of renewed sectarian bloodshed, while Syria withdrew more troops from Lebanon in line with international demands.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a senior U.S. envoy condemned the attacks.

Syrian troops, meanwhile, continued dismantling positions in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley on Sunday and headed home — a key demand of the United States, United Nations and the Lebanese opposition.

Some 35 military trucks loaded with soldiers, equipment, ammunition and towing anti-aircraft guns entered Syria at the Masnaa border crossing late Sunday, local journalists said.

The convoys left positions in the Deir Zanoun hills near Anjar in the valley close to the border and near a Syrian army radar station in the central Lebanese mountains.

Syrian soldiers also were dismantling eight other positions near the city of Baalbek and were expected to leave after midnight. Previous troop withdrawals have proceeded in the same fashion.

Factions hold talks
Leaders of the anti- and pro-Syrian camps also held their first talks in seven months.

The meeting between Druse leader Walid Jumblatt and Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, of the powerful Syrian-backed Hezbollah militant group, came amid a political deadlock hampering the formation of a Cabinet to arrange parliamentary elections before the May 31 expiration of the current legislature’s term.

Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition has been courting Hezbollah, which is widely admired in the country for its social assistance and its military role in forcing Israel to leave southern Lebanon in 2000 after an 18-year occupation.

For its part, Hezbollah is seeking opposition assurances that it won’t push for the group’s disarmament following Syria’s final troop withdrawal.

Deadly bombings
“The issue of weapons is not under discussion today,” Jumblatt said, adding he will not let any new parliament be “hostile” to Syria or Hezbollah.

Image: Beruit explosion
A burning building is seen in video footage following reports of a loud explosion in Beirut Saturday.
Saturday’s blast at an industrial estate in the mainly Christian northeastern Beirut suburb of Bouchrieh injured five people and set at least six factories ablaze. It followed bombings targeting two Christian strongholds March 19 and 23 that killed three people and wounded at least 10.

“We will do all we can. We should all be united because this is how we can save the country,” Lahoud, a Maronite Catholic and close Syrian ally, vowed after attending an Easter Mass service.

Lahoud has come under intense pressure from Lebanese opposition groups since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many here have blamed on Syrian and Lebanese authorities. Both governments deny the accusations.

Anti-Syrian leaders also have blamed Damascus and allied Lebanese security authorities for the recent bombings that they say are aimed at proving Syrian troops are needed to maintain security in Lebanon, which was ravaged by sectarian violence during its 1975-90 civil war.

Assassination footage?
Meanwhile, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television on Sunday aired footage taken minutes before the massive bomb blast in that killed Hariri and 17 other people. It showed a “suspect” white pickup truck that U.N. investigators have linked to the assassination.

The footage, taken by an HSBC bank security camera, showed the open-backed 1995 or 1996 model Mitsubishi Canter pickup truck driving six times slower than other vehicles near central Beirut’s seafront St. Georges Hotel, the scene of the explosion.

Shortly after the truck passed out of the camera’s view, Hariri’s motorcade was taped entering the area. Seconds later, the camera’s view finder is obscured by clouds of dust and debris from the blast.

U.N. condemns inquiry
The U.N. fact-finding mission’s report into Hariri’s killing, released Thursday, poured scorn over the Lebanese murder investigation and said authorities had found out little about the truck, despite having access to the bank camera’s tape.

“This aspect of the investigation could have uncovered vital evidence,” the report said, “including: the possible identity of the perpetrator or perpetrators, where the truck was parked immediately before the explosion and of critical importance, whether the truck continued on its journey and had no involvement in the assassination at all.”

Hariri’s assassination sparked mass protests by the Lebanese opposition calling for an end to three decades of Syrian interference in Lebanon. Washington and the United Nations also stepped up demands that Damascus withdraw its forces in line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 passed in September.

The U.N. secretary-general called on the Lebanese government to “rapidly” prevent security from deteriorating further.

Annan statement
“This latest violence must stop and ... Lebanese should be allowed to decide the future of their country free of violence and intimidation,” Annan said in a U.N. statement.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield said the attacks were “aimed directly at the people of Lebanon and I think the people of Lebanon are confident in their ability to proceed in a manner that tells those responsible they will not be frightened.”

Syrian soldiers deployed to Lebanon during the civil war as a stabilizing force, but remained after and became the country’s main powerbroker.

At the time of Hariri’s assassination, about 14,000 Syrian troops were in Lebanon but about 4,000 left in the first phase of a withdrawal that was completed March 17. About 1,000 of the 10,000 Syrian soldiers remaining in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley started heading home in recent days, a Lebanese military official said Saturday.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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