Syrian Agents Permeate Life in Lebanon
Special Report to World Tribune Daily News
Friday, July 21, 2000
LONDON - Syria has flooded Lebanon with intelligence agents and has not withdrawn thousands of troops as reported. Opposition sources said the result is that Syria now has at least 25,000 intelligence agents operating in Lebanon. They monitor Lebanese unions, universities, politicians and anybody else suspected of being a threat to Syrian rule. The sources estimate that Syria maintains between 35-40,000 soldiers in Lebanon. They dismissed reports by Arab diplomatic sources that Syria has reduced its military presence in Lebanon, Middle East Newsline reported.
Instead, they said, Syria has moved many of its troops from Beirut to the Bekaa valley away from the eyes of Lebanese.
The sources said the Arab and Western estimates of the number of Syrian laborers in Lebanon are also too low. They said 1.2 million Syrians  work in Lebanon and are completely dependent on Syrian intelligence officials, who approve their stay in Lebanon.
"They are present in our internal affairs, in the foreign affairs, defense affairs, everything," said Gubran Tueini, director of the Beirut-based An Nahar daily and one of the few who dares to speak out on the issue of Syrian occupation. Lebanese are forbidden to demonstrate against the Syrian occupation and even discuss the issue in public. Opposition sources said Syrian
universities are full of Syrian agents - many of them Lebanese - who monitor  the conversations of students.
"You cannot talk about Syrian presence in Beirut," said Ziad Abs, a member of the Lebanese Patriotic Front (Supporters of General Michel Aoun). "You cannot talk about the way Syrians are benefitting from their presence here."  Abs was arrested for speaking out against the Syrian occupation. He said he was taken to the Lebanese Defense Ministry, blindfolded and ordered to remain standing for 72 hours.
Opposition sources said the Syrian occupation of Lebanon has been used by the country's ruling politicians to ban dissent against the government in Beirut. They point out that demonstrations against the government have been banned, despite a pledge by Prime Minister Salim Hoss. "The government which advocates freedom of expression, cannot solve the
problems that are strangling the population by pushing a button," he said. "Solutions are being worked on." The next test of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, opposition sources said, is the nation's parliamentary elections, which begins next
month. The sources, in an assertion backed by Arab diplomatic sources, said Syria will once again hand pick candidates and ensure their election.
Indeed, the sources said, candidates are waiting for an endorsement from Damascus before they even announce their race. Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, one of the few critics of the Syrian occupation, said candidates are "hesitant in announcing their lists, waiting for the final word that does not come from Lebanon but from outside. This
poses a question as to whether the elections will be 100 percent Lebanese and reflect the views of Lebanese."
During a meeting with journalists last week, the patriarch urged Syria to respect Lebanon's sovereignty. "The joint interest for both countries is having the best possible, if not excellent, relations," he said. "But Lebanon should have the right to freely direct its own issues and  be independent as well as feel that it has sovereignty over its territory."