BEIRUT, Lebanon — Under pressure from the United States, Europe and significant portion of Lebanon’s populace, Syrian intelligence units Tuesday were in the process of leaving Beirut, a Lebanese army source told CNN.
Witnesses said two pick-up trucks were being loaded at Syrian intelligence headquarters in the Lebanese capital’s Ramlet al-Baida district, Reuters reported.
Pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his late father, former President Hafez Assad, were taken down from around the building as a road leading to the area was cut off, Reuters said.
In the Hamra district of Beirut, furniture from a Syrian intelligence office was being loaded into three trucks, The Associated Press reported.
Lebanese police blocked the road, and two agents sat at the entrance of the building amid the chairs and tables ready to be loaded, AP said.
A policeman at the scene said some Syrian agents have already left and the others were on their way out.
The move follows Monday’s mass opposition rally in central Beirut and coincides with a visit to Damascus by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak, whose trip Tuesday was not announced in advance, discussed the situation in Lebanon with his Syrian counterpart.
On Monday, hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the rally marking one month since the assassination for former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Organizers said it was the largest opposition demonstration since Hariri was killed February 14. It outnumbered a pro-Syrian counter-demonstration organized last week by Hezbollah.
Flag-waving crowds from across Lebanon flooded into Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut on Monday, just meters (yards) from Hariri’s grave.
They were demanding an international inquiry into his February 14 killing, the resignation of Lebanese security chiefs and a total Syrian withdrawal.
Addressing the massive crowd, Hariri’s sister vowed an endless fight to find out who was behind the bombing.
“We will never stop searching for the truth,” Bahia Hariri, an opposition member of parliament, said tearfully to resounding cheers.
“We will not allow the sacrifice of the Lebanese resistance that gave Lebanon back its dignity.”
Hariri was the chief opposition figure in Lebanon who spearheaded the push for Syrian troops and intelligence officers to leave Lebanon. His death triggered huge daily protests by his supporters, after which the pro-Syrian Lebanese government resigned.
Last week, Syria began pulling its 14,000 troops to the Bekaa Valley near the border, and vowed to bring all the troops and intelligence officials across the border into Syria later on.
To counteract the opposition, Hezbollah — an official party in Lebanon, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel — organized an enormous pro-Syria rally with a turnout estimated at about 500,000.
Monday’s opposition rally was designed to pull even greater numbers. Wire services estimated the turnout at about 800,000.
“The Lebanese people are sick and tired of the status quo and they want true independence,” said one participant. “We want our country to be free, with no oppression,” said another.
“This is a tremendously large crowd, the size of which is unprecedented in Lebanon’s modern history,” said CNN’s Brent Sadler in Beirut. “It is truly massive and cannot be ignored.”
Protesters waved banners demanding “Syria Out” and unfurled a 100-meter (yard) red-and-white Lebanese flag with the distinct green cedar tree in the middle.
Some sang the national anthem, while others chanted “Truth, Freedom, National Unity,” or “We want only the Lebanese army in Lebanon,” The Associated Press reported.
Crowds of men, women and children spilled into nearby streets, while more from across the country packed the roads into Beirut.
“We are coming to liberate our country. We are coming to demand the truth,” Fatma Trad, a veiled Sunni Muslim woman who traveled from the remote region of Dinniyeh in northern Lebanon to take part, told AP.
“We are determined to liberate our country and we will not stop,” Farid Samaha, a 32-year-old banker, said.
Many on Monday carried pictures of Hariri, and cars on street corners blared his speeches. “We miss you,” read one large banner.
The crowd fell silent at 12:55 p.m. (1055 GMT), the exact time Hariri was killed four weeks ago. Church bells tolled in the silence.
On Sunday, U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said Syria has given a timetable for the withdrawal of all its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.
Syrian officials say they are following U.N. Resolution 1559 as well as the Taif Accord, signed in 1989, which legitimized Syria’s presence in Lebanon at the end of a bitter civil war there but called for a later withdrawal.
But U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders have said Syria must immediately pull all its forces from Lebanon.
Resolution 1559 also calls for Lebanon to disband militia groups, including Hezbollah. The Taif Accord allowed Hezbollah to remain in place.
Hariri’s assassination also led to Prime Minister Omar Karami’s resignation. But he was renominated as prime minister following last week’s massive pro-Syria demonstration organized by Hezbollah.
Many Arabs see Hezbollah as heroic for helping drive Israeli forces from Lebanon. Israel pulled its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000.
Hezbollah has carried out numerous terrorist attacks against civilians and is listed by the United States and Israel as a terrorist organization. It remains an official party in Lebanon.