The protest on Tuesday dwarfed previous protests demanding that Syrian troops
Hizb Allah chief Shaikh Hasan Nasr Allah urged the Lebanese opposition to join
a national unity government and reject a UN demand for the Syrians to leave
and his own militia to disarm.
Nasr Allah said no one in Lebanon feared the United States, whose troops left
Beirut in 1984, a few months after a bomber killed 241 marines at their headquarters
in the capital.
"We have defeated them in the past and if they come again we will defeat
them again," he said, drawing chants of "Death to America" from
the sea of demonstrators.
As the mainly Shia Muslim crowds thronged Riad al-Sulh Square, Syrian forces
began moving eastwards under a phased withdrawal plan announced on Monday, the
Lebanese army said.
The huge Hizb Allah rally was the first major show of popular support for Syria
in Beirut since the 14 February assassination of former Lebanese prime minister
Rafiq al-Hariri touched off daily anti-Syrian protests, mainly involving Maronite
Those protests, which drew tens of thousands on Monday, have been taking place
in Martyrs Square, just 300m from the scene of the gathering organised by Hizb
Allah and its allies.
The rival rallies, each using the Lebanese cedar flag to show patriotism, reveal
deep rifts in Lebanon over Syria's role and the future of Hizb Allah, the country's
last armed militia.
Hizb Allah officials and a pro-Syrian security source said one million people
attended the rally and witnesses said the crowds were certainly in the hundreds
Nasr Allah said he had no problem with a Syrian pullout under the 1989 Taif
Accord that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, but would have no truck with
a UN resolution adopted in September that called for a Syrian withdrawal and
"If the mechanism for Syria's stay or withdrawal is within the Taif Accord
then we are agreed," he told the rally.
"But those who insist on [Resolution] 1559, we say to them your insistence
is a revolt against the Taif Accord ... and that means a revolt against national
consensus," he declared.
Nasr Allah also urged France, which co-sponsored 1559 with the United States,
to drop its support for the measure.
Shia Muslims, Lebanon's largest community, condemned al-Hariri's killing but
few have joined Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslim opponents of Syria's dominant
role in the country.
The Shia and many other Lebanese are proud of Hizb Allah, which is backed
by Syria and Iran, for forcing Israel to end its 22-year occupation of south
Lebanon in 2000.
Popular agitation in Lebanon, combined with intense world pressure, has prompted
Syria to announce plans to end its 29-year military presence in its smaller
"Implemented immediately from this date is the ... withdrawal of Syrian
forces from the existing areas to the Bekaa area," a Lebanese army statement
Witnesses reported troops on the move in several places on mountain ridges
east of Beirut.
Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahud agreed
on Monday to shift Syrian troops to eastern Lebanon by 31 March.
A statement said the Syrian and Lebanese military would then decide how long
the Syrians would stay.
A Syrian official source in Damascus said Syrian security and intelligence
agents would leave along with the troops.
Lebanese and foreign critics say Syrian intelligence controls Lebanon behind
a facade of state institutions.
Hizb Allah, declared a terrorist group by Washington, began as an anti-Israel
militia but is now also a political party with deputies in parliament and a
network of charities.
Opposition leader Walid Jumblatt called for dialogue with Hizb Allah, but said
Syria must declare a withdrawal deadline.
"We want a clear-cut timetable for the pullout of Syrian troops,"
the Druze leader said after meeting German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Syrian forces are credited with helping end the civil war that tore Lebanon
Christian, Muslim and Druze militias fought each other and about 150,000 people
are thought to have died in that conflict