NABATIYEH, Lebanon (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for
a Hizbollah rally against the United States on Sunday, even as a U.N. envoy
met the Lebanese president to press demands for a Syrian pullout.
Washington, leading the calls for Syria to withdraw its forces from the country,
said it welcomed promises by Damascus to do so but wanted to see deeds and not
Many placards at Hizbollah's demonstration in the southern town of Nabatiyeh
said "No to foreign intervention," but were aimed at the United States
and Israel, not Syria.
"America out!" yelled supporters of the Syrian-backed Shi'ite Muslim
group, mocking the chants of "Syria out" at opposition demonstrations
in recent weeks.
It was the second time in a week the Hizbollah guerrilla group, Lebanon's most
powerful political organization and the only one with weapons, had flexed its
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in central Beirut on Tuesday to support
Hizbollah's right to bear arms and to thank Syria for its role in Lebanon, where
Damascus has kept troops since intervening in the country's civil war in 1976.
Waving Lebanese flags, the crowd chanted "Death to America, death to Israel"
at the rally organized by Hizbollah and the smaller Shi'ite Amal party. A few
burned U.S. and Israeli flags.
U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen met Lebanese leaders and opposition figures on
Sunday on United Nations resolution 1559, which calls for foreign forces to
withdraw from Lebanon and the disarming of all militias there.
Roed-Larsen said he and President Emile Lahoud agreed at a "constructive"
meeting that elections, expected in May, must go ahead on time. Political tensions
had stirred talk of a delay.
Roed-Larsen last visited Lebanon days before the Feb. 14 killing of former
Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, which sparked daily protests in Beirut against
the Syrians many blamed.
Roed-Larsen said on Saturday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had promised
to withdraw all his troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon in line with
He said he would present U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan next week with details
on a timetable for a complete pullout.
Witnesses said personnel were packing up to leave at three main intelligence
centers, taking down flags and huge pictures of Assad and his late father Hafez
Syrian troops left their posts in Mount Lebanon, northeast of Beirut. Some
crossed the Syrian border, where several hundred Lebanese showered the departing
soldiers with rice and flowers.
Washington cautiously welcomed Assad's promise to the U.N. envoy, having previously
demanded Syria's immediate withdrawal.
"Initial reports are encouraging," White House national security
adviser Stephen Hadley told U.S. Fox television on Sunday. "In the end
of the day, it's going to be deeds, not words, that matter."
SUPPORT FOR HIZBOLLAH'S ARMS
Hizbollah, the main guerrilla group which fought Israeli occupation of Lebanon's
south, was allowed to keep its arms after the civil war to fight Israeli forces
occupying the south. It claimed credit for driving them out in 2000.
Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud told reporters Lebanon's leaders had told
Roed-Larsen they rejected the part of 1559 calling for militias in Lebanon to
"We said to him: We don't have any militias, we have a resistance that
is supported by all the Lebanese people," he said.
Protesters, mostly Shi'ites but joined by Druze and others, came from across
southern Lebanon to support Hizbollah's armed "Islamic resistance,"
Some protesters held up Lebanese identity cards so that no one could say they
had been bussed in from Syria, as some media reported happened at last week's
Hizbollah rally in Beirut.
Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition movement plans to hold a big demonstration
in central Beirut on Monday, a month to the day since Hariri was killed. They
have demanded an international investigation into his death.
A few thousand protesters held a candlelit vigil in Beirut's Martyrs Square
on Sunday evening. Hundreds of flickering flames formed the word "Truth."