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Syrian intellectuals and human rights activists urge withdrawal from Lebanon
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BEIRUT: Some 60 intellectuals and human rights activists in Syria urged Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon on Monday in a message delivered to the Lebanese opposition, according to Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar Bounni.

"We support your calls for a withdrawal of the Syrian Army from Lebanon and for an improvement in Syrian-Lebanese ties on the basis of equality, independence and free decision-making for the two peoples," the statement said.

The message of support came amid increasing international pressure on Syria to withdraw its estimated 14,000 troops from Lebanon, based on speculations that Damascus and the pro-Syrian Lebanese government were involved in the Valentine's Day assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

Both governments have denied the charges, stressing that Israel was the main beneficiary of the attack.

"The pullout of Syrian soldiers in Lebanon is a prelude to an improvement of relations. However, the fact of threatening Syrian nationals undermines such relations," said the statement's signatories, in reference to the assault of several Syrian workers here soon after the assassination.

The message conveyed the group's discontent and pain at hearing that Syrian nationals throughout Lebanon were being humiliated and attacked.

The statement's signatories included: lawyers Anwar Bounni and Khalil Maatouq; intellectuals Bourhan Ghalioune, Yassin Hajj Saleh, Akram Bounni, Abdel-Razzaq Eid, Fayez Sara and Michel Kilo.

Kilo noted that the Syrian presence in Lebanon "is more negative than positive," and that its support "has become dangerous," considering the pressure being applied by the United Nations Security Council, the overwhelming majority of the Lebanese people and a great number of Syrians.

"We entered Lebanon to help the Lebanese, but now this is over," he said.

The Syrian intellectual added that more than 100 of his colleagues will soon address an "open letter" to Syrian President Bashar Assad for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon and the implementation of the Taif Accord.

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