Damascus and Beirut have responded angrily to a report published on 1 October by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which criticises the two governments for failing to comply with Security Council resolution 1559.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid accused the UN of being biased against Lebanon and is quoted in the local Daily Star as saying: ‘Annan’s report on Lebanon and Syria is very tough and exaggerated at a time when the UN always uses softer and more lenient terms against Israel.’ Damascus said it respects Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty as well as the 1989 Taif accords.

The statements came two days ahead of a UN Security Council meeting to decide on future steps to implement the resolution, which calls for Lebanon’s sovereignty and political independence to be respected, the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon and the disbanding of all local and foreign militias in the country.

The resolution was passed on 2 September, the day before the Beirut parliament voted to amend the country’s constitution to grant Damascus-backed President Lahoud an additional three years in office. Syria’s interference in the vote sparked widespread domestic and international anger.

Annan’s report concludes that Beirut and Damascus have failed to comply with the resolution, adding that both capitals had informed him that the fate of the 14,000 Syrian soldiers in Lebanon will be determined by both countries and is dependent on the situation in the region.

The report also says that armed militias remain in Lebanon, in particular Hezbollah.

In a separate move, Syrian President Asad reshuffled his cabinet on 4 October, replacing eight ministers. The move is the first major reshuffle since Prime Minister Otri took office in September 2003.

Diplomatic sources say the most significant appointment is the replacement of Interior Minister Ali Hammoud with Major General Ghazi Kanaan, the head of Syria’s political security service. The appointment of Kanaan is seen as a sign that Damascus is preparing to return to a more pragmatic policy towards its smaller neighbour. Kanaan was Syria’s director of intelligence in Lebanon for almost 20 years. The move is viewed as a return to the fore of a figure who was a close aide to former president Hafez Asad.