After 29 Years, Syrians Go Quietly
Crouching over a small stone pedestal amid a grove of pines, Maj. Hadi Husseini on Monday quietly marked the imminent end of Syria’s nearly three-decade military presence in Lebanon. He carefully put the finishing touches on a monument he designed, simple and solemn, to memorialize the thousands of Syrian soldiers who have died in his country over the years. “These red flowers are the symbol for blood,” said Husseini, who was 9 years old when Syrian troops rolled into Lebanon in 1976 at the time of a burgeoning civil war. Over the next 29 years, a period scheduled to end officially on Tuesday during a military ceremony at the army post here, at least 2,000 Syrians were killed in Lebanon. A rough-hewn foundation stone will be set into Husseini’s shrine, medals exchanged and speeches given by the heads of the Syrian and Lebanese armies. Then the last 600 Syrian soldiers, from a force that once numbered 40,000, will board trucks, buses and rickety jeeps to sweep across the border roughly 10 miles away, ending an era in the Middle East.
In the weeks since a Feb. 14 bombing killed former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, tens of thousands of Lebanese have participated in angry street demonstrations demanding an end to Syria’s domination of Lebanon’s political life. But as international pressure has mounted against Syria to quit Lebanon, particularly the intelligence services that many here hold responsible for Hariri’s death, some Lebanese have tempered their outrage with a sense of gratitude toward the foot soldiers who served here through the 15-year civil war and for as many years after.
No one is clamoring for the Syrians to stay, and many people watched impassively as convoys of Syrian military vehicles trundled along the valley’s narrow roads Monday toward the shared mountain frontier. But neither was there jubilation, especially among the senior military officers and Lebanese civilians who worked with and lived among the Syrian troops here for decades. And some Lebanese expressed frustration over the intense international pressure directed against Syria to end its domineering presence in Lebanon.
It’s interesting that this dynamic hasn’t been widely covered until now.