Syria may be forced to withdraw not only funds
Senior Syrian officials withdrew some USD 3 billion from Lebanese banks in recent days, in a possible indication of Syrian plans to pull out of Lebanon, Kuwaiti newspaper al-Seyassah reported Sunday.
A Beirut bank manager told a diplomatic official in Lebanon that Syrians holding accounts in Lebanese banks have “stormed” the banks and withdrew some USD 3.5 billion of the estimated USD 10-12 billion that belong to Syrian businessmen and government and army officials.
According to the newspaper, the bank manager said the central bank in Beirut does not want to publish this information for fear the Lebanese economy would collapse.
The bank manager also claimed the Syrian money came mainly from the selling of oil fields in north Lebanon and from bribes paid by Lebanese citizens and merchants to Syrian politicians and military personnel over the years.
Plans abduct Syrian officials
However, the withdrawal of funds is not the only drama taking place in Lebanon these days.
It is rumored that family members of Lebanese citizens who are detained in Syria may attempt to abduct prominent Syrian businessmen and security officials.
In a demonstration held in front of the Lebanese parliament building last Thursday, protestors called on parliament members to raise the issue of the 250 Lebanese prisoners being held in Syria, some of which had disappeared under mysterious circumstances over 20 years ago.
Lebanese sources in Washington said the issue of the Lebanese prisoners in Syria is one of the reasons U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice included Syria in the list of countries belonging to the "axis of evil."
In addition, European sources said the European Union is planning to freeze all contact with Syria until it pulls troops out of Lebanon and end its support for terror organizations.
List of sanctions ready
At this time, it appears eall sides are waiting for Syria's next move.
The U.S. is waiting for Syria to take action, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Satterfield said before his arrival in Beirut Saturday. European diplomatic sources, meanwhile, told Qatari newspaper al-Watan sanctions have already been prepared in case Syria does not fully withdraw from Lebanon.
According to the report, a Syrian failure to pull out would lead to massive international pressure on Damascus, including the departure of EU and NATO ambassadors from Syria and the launching of an international investigation into the death of former Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri.
According to some speculations, a NATO military offensive in Lebanon is also within the realm of possibility.