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Syrian troops in Lebanon start redeployment

By Brent Sadler
CNN Correspondent

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Syria began the publicly announced redeployment of its troops in Lebanon on Thursday, pulling back from a number of areas populated by Christians.

Syria, which has had as many as 30,000 troops in Lebanon since the end of the Lebanese civil war, normally shrouds its troop movements in secrecy. However, this time the Lebanese Army announced the redeployment.

Under the Ta'if Agreement, which brought an end to Lebanon's 15-year civil war in 1989, Syrian troops were supposed to withdraw from Beirut to the high mountains of eastern Lebanon and to the Bekaa Valley. They had not, with Syria contending the Lebanese Army was not able to exercise control.

However, with the withdrawal of Israel from southern Lebanon, Syria began to come under criticism, particularly from Lebanon's Maronite Catholic community.

While the Lebanese government continues to support the presence of Syrian troops, the redeployment was welcomed by the country's Christians.

In recent days, Emile Lahood, the Maronite Christian president of Lebanon, has been seeking a dialogue with opposition leaders, including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfer, on the deployment of Syrian troops.

Neutral observers said the movements are a significant political gesture that reflects positively on the needs of both Lebanon and Syria.

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