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Syria shocked by mounting anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon

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Demands for Syrian troop pullout from Lebanon spark patriotic backlash in isolated Syria.


By Adnan Zaka - DAMASCUS

Demands for a Syrian troop pullout from Lebanon, which have grown ever louder since the assassination of five-time former premier Rafiq Hariri last month, are sparking a mounting patriotic backlash at home.

Television footage beamed into Syrian homes by Gulf-based satellite channels of mass protests against the nearly three-decade-old troop presence has sparked accusations of ingratitude from ordinary people in Lebanon's larger but much poorer neighbour.

"It's undeniable that there's been an upsurge in Syrian patriotism as a result of this mounting anti-Syrian sentiment," said a Damascus-based businessman who gave his name only as George H.

"The man on the street is influenced by what he sees on the satellite channels and, when he sees these strong anti-Syrian views being expressed in Lebanon, there's a tendency for an allergic reaction regardless of whether the viewer supports the government or not.

"Even people who are normally considered in their views find it difficult to get away from the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and that gets in the way of any more serious analysis.

"A majority of Syrians are currently prey to this patriotic backlash and dissident intellectuals find themselves isolated on the issue," he said.

A Damascus taxi-driver said of his outrage at what he called Lebanese "ingratitude" for Syria's long and costly military commitment.

"Is that how they thank us for all the martyrs we have lost and the money we've spent helping their country?" he asked.

A 40-year-old tailor, who gave his name only as Hisham, said he too had been "deeply shocked" by the anti-Syrian rhetoric bandied about in Lebanon in recent weeks.

"Syria must stay on in Lebanon to protect its security needs," he said.

"Our stability is intimately bound up with Lebanon's. Lebanon cannot be allowed to become a base for activities hostile to Syria and that's why the presence of our army and intelligence services is vital for our security."

Munir, a technician in his 30s, said he had been shocked by how rapidly the Lebanese seemed to have "forgotten the peace-making role played by Syria" in bringing an end to the country's devastating 1975-90 civil war.

Mohammed, a 27-year-old engineer with a Lebanese mother and a Syrian father, said he was unsure whether Syrian troops should quit Lebanon, but that any pullout should be a gradual one based on the broadest possible consensus, not a kneejerk response to Resolution 1559 passed by the UN Security Council last September.

"I don't know whether our troops should withdraw or not," he admitted.

"However, if everyone is agreed on the implementation of the Taef accord, they should pull out, but in a prudent way. Anything hurried could be dangerous," he said, referring to a 1989 agreement that foresaw a phased pullback of Syrian troops coordinated by the two governments.

Even Lebanese residents of Damascus expressed embarrassment over the growing hostility shown to ordinary Syrians in their homeland.

Expatriates Antoine and Fuad said reports of a spate of revenge attacks on Syrian migrant workers since the February 14 killing of Hariri, which was blamed by the opposition on the Damascus regime, were "unworthy" of their country.

Created by anita
Last modified 2005-04-09 11:56 PM

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