A Syrian official has said that Damascus will pull all its troops from Lebanon, including members of the military intelligence services after they are redeployed to the Bekaa Valley.

This comes after Syria pledged to pull back its troops in Lebanon to the eastern Bekaa Valley by the end of March, but stopped short of announcing the complete and rapid withdrawal demanded by the international community.

At summit in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud said in a joint statement a decision on the next phase would only come after this initial pull back.

They also called for a joint military committee to draw up an agreement within a month, outlining the number of remaining Syrian personnel and the duration of their stay.

The US, which has led mounting global pressure on Damascus for a full pullout, expressed frustration at the announcement.

“We need to see by action, not words, Syria needs to withdraw completely and immediately from Lebanon territory,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

French President Jacques Chirac and US President George W Bush in a phone call agreed on “their determination to obtain the full and complete implementation of resolution 1559” on the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

But on the ground in Lebanon there was evidence of some movement.

A Syrian military convoy of nine trucks and two jeeps was seen on the Beirut-Damascus road heading towards the Bekaa Valley, witnesses said.

Elsewhere, Syrian soldiers posted at Dahr al-Wahsh, about 12 kilometres east of Beirut, were seen emptying buildings.

The BBC has also reported seeing Syrian military trucks heading east towards the Bekaa, close to the Syrian border.

The Syrian official, who asked not to be named, told AFP that teh decisions taken by the Syrian and Lebanese leaders had been made “with a view to a complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon”.

He added the “Syrian withdrawal will include the Syrian military intelligence services who are part of the Syrian forces”, the first time Damascus has mentioned the future of its 3,000-4,000 agents in Lebanon.

Syria is under intense pressure to end its political and military grip on Lebanon after Damascus deployed troops in 1976, to try to restore peace during the country’s 15-year long civil war.

The civil war ended under the Saudi-sponsored Taef agreement of 1989, which provided for a phased redeployment of the Syrian forces but set no timetable, leaving it to agreement between Beirut and Damascus.

UN Security Council Resolution 1559, passed last September, called for an immediate and complete pullout of Syrian troops.

An estimated 14,000 Syrian troops remain in Lebanon, with about 4,000 of them deployed outside the Bekaa.

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