Pro-Syria voices push back
Bush renewed his call for Syria's pullout from Lebanon Tuesday.
With the long-awaited Syrian troop withdrawal under way, the future balance of power in Lebanon will be determined in the coming weeks as the country's rival political factions begin to jostle for influence and position.Skip to next paragraph
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With the anti-Syrian opposition having dominated the headlines over the past three weeks, it was the turn Tuesday of the pro-Syrian camp.
Lebanon's Shiite Hizbullah organization spearheaded a massive rally in central Beirut that drew at least 500,000 demonstrators who protested Western interference in Lebanon and denounced the UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for a withdrawal of foreign forces.
The huge crowds packed central Beirut and dwarfed recent anti-Syrian rallies, sending a powerful message to the Lebanese opposition and the international community that the Shiite party is a political force to be reckoned with.
"Now we see that the majority of Shiites are behind Hizbullah and if we want to talk about democracy and people power, we are witnessing this," says Amal Saad Ghorayeb, a professor of politics at the Lebanese-American University and author of "Hizbullah: Politics and Religion."
"What does the US have to say about that, Hizbullah will ask, 'Is the US going to turn around and say ... that's the kind of democracy we are not interested in?' This is the double-edged sword that a lot of people have been cautioning the US about."
Last month's assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, sparked unprecedented protests calling on Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. Stunned by the rapid pace of events, the outpouring of public sentiment, and the resignation of the Lebanese government last week, the pro-Syrians in Beirut, as well as Damascus, scrambled for a response.
Hizbullah, which commands a broad following among Lebanese Shiites and is the only party with an armed wing, was initially guarded, stressing national unity and dialogue with the opposition.
But the day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced on Saturday in Damascus a two-stage redeployment of Syrian forces from Lebanon, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's secretary-general, publicly outlined his party's position for the first time since Mr. Hariri's murder. Accepting a Syrian disengagement as inevitable, Mr. Nasrallah focused on the idea of allowing Syria to withdraw with "honor" under the terms of the 1989 Taif Accord, which helped end the 1975-1990 civil war, rather than being forced out by the demands of Resolution 1559.
When Nasrallah spoke Tuesday to the throngs of Hizbullah supporters he said he had a message for President Bush. At mention of the president, the crowd interrupted with boos. Quieting them down, he said, "You are wrong on Lebanon. Lebanon is above humiliation, above being divided, above dying. Lebanon will not change its name, history, nor identity nor will we remove our skins and throw our hearts to the dogs."
"We want to keep our special relationship with Syria, we want the resistance, we want the return of the [Palestinian] refugees [to their former homes] and we reject 1559," he said.