BEIRUT -- The symbols of Syrian power crumbled in parts of Lebanon yesterday as Syrian military intelligence agents emptied their offices in Beirut and Tripoli and workers took down an imposing portrait of Syria's president in the capital's seaside boulevard.
Lebanese citizens quickly hoisted their national flag -- red and white with a green cedar tree in the middle -- outside one of the vacated offices and at the site of the massive portrait of Bashar Assad.
The retreat of Syrian intelligence, the arm through which Damascus controlled many aspects of Lebanese life, followed strong demands from the United States and an anti-Syrian rally Monday that drew an estimated 1 million people -- the biggest crowd ever seen in central Beirut.
Premier-designate Omar Karami said he would send emissaries to opposition leaders to try to form a national unity government, but acknowledged it would be difficult.
Opposition lawmakers have told Karami they will not join a Cabinet until all Syrian troops have left Lebanon, Syrian-allied security chiefs have been dismissed, and an international inquiry has been appointed into the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
President Bush yesterday urged Hezbollah to disarm and to stay out of Israeli-Palestinian disputes, suggesting the militant group could shed its terrorist label and win US backing for a role in Lebanon's political mainstream. Bush's remarks appeared to offer Hezbollah a path toward legitimacy in the eyes of Washington, which has long regarded the Iranian-founded, anti-Israel group as a dangerous terrorist organization. Bush said that view still holds but, in carefully phrased remarks, he emphasized the chance for Hezbollah to change its ways and its status.
''We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization," Bush said after an Oval Office meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II. ''I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they are not by laying down arms and not threatening peace."
Hezbollah, whose officials declined to comment yesterday on Bush's remarks, had organized a pro-Syrian rally of 500,000 people in central Beirut last week. The demonstration on Monday was seen as a reply from the anti-Syrian opposition.
Bush spoke after several thousand pro-Syrian demonstrators, shouting ''Death to America" and ''ambassador get out," had denounced US interference in Lebanon during a march toward the American Embassy. Lebanese police, troops, and coils of barbed wire stopped the march just over a half-mile from the fortified embassy compound.
Syrian intelligence agents packed up their files and furniture at their offices at Ramlet el-Baida on the edge of Beirut. Their goods were loaded into three trucks. In the city's commercial Hamra district, about two dozen Syrian agents left their office in a car and a van loaded furniture and belongings. They were escorted by Lebanese police.
A short time later, a doorman hoisted two Lebanese flags at the entrance.
The intelligence offices in Beirut were the only remnants of Syria's military presence in the capital after the withdrawal of troops in 2000. Since then, the headquarters of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon have been in the town of Anjar, a few miles from the Lebanese-Syrian border.
Syrian military intelligence has been the main instrument of Damascus's control in Lebanon. Its agents deal directly with the Lebanese, supervising checkpoints, detaining people, and granting permits and licenses. They have even resolved disputes among Lebanese politicians.
The UN team appointed to investigate Hariri's killing ended its mission yesterday. Its chief, Peter Fitzgerald, has said he hoped to report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan within four weeks.