LONDON, March 26 (JTA) A Beirut newspaper has broken a major taboo by demanding that Syria create a timetable for withdrawing its 35,000 troops from Lebanon.
The front-page article in An-Nahar, described by Arab sources as “unprecedented” and “audacious,” was published on the eve of President Clinton’s meeting in Geneva on Sunday with Syrian President Hafez Assad.
It is thought to be a message to the two leaders that Assad cannot be rewarded with continued Syrian control over Lebanon for resuming negotiations with Israel.
The call in the form of an open letter to Assad’s son and heir-apparent Bashar was written and signed by Gebran Tueni, managing director and chairman of the board of the newspaper.
“I have to tell you quite frankly: Many Lebanese consider that Syria’s behavior in Lebanon completely contradicts the principles of sovereignty, dignity and independence,” wrote Tueni.
“Syria’s presence in Lebanon has never meant anything more than periodic military and political disputes. Our only knowledge of Syrian policies came from the political elite that Syria helped install in power, and which did more to distort these policies than serve them.
“You must also undoubtedly realize that the Lebanese are utterly devoted to their dignity, liberty, independence and sovereignty, and that they are understandably angered when they feel that ‘Syrian behavior’ threatens those values.”
He asserted that “Syria needs Lebanon as much as Lebanon needs Syria if both of us want to face the future together after peace is established, and not to pay its price.
“That is why we say that a healthy and strong Lebanon will bolster Syria’s position.
“Therefore,” he continued, “we demand that Lebanon be made a full partner and not just a mere stooge in order that we may face Israel together.”
Tueni said he was addressing the “open letter” to Bashar because he represents “a new, youthful and forward-looking generation, a generation that might someday have to shoulder the responsibility of building Syria’s future.”
He wrote: “The people are asking for a timetable for Syrian redeployment and are waiting for answers. Those asking for this redeployment are neither traitors nor enemies but persecuted citizens who want answers that will dispel their justifiable fears.”