Lebanon, Syria seek to mend relations

Lebanon and Syria have agreed to get their relationships back on track after Damascus withdrew its troops from its tiny neighbour amid furious anti-Syrian protests.

Siniora (L) said the two countries had resolved the border dispute

Leading Lebanon’s first government since Syria ended its 29-year military presence in April, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to patch up ties a day after winning a confidence vote in parliament.

“The two sides reaffirmed anew their commitment to work to build Syrian-Lebanese relations based on mutual respect, away from anything that could affect the special relations between the two brotherly countries,” they said in a joint statement issued after the meeting.

“The brotherly countries are eager to deepen cooperation and interaction, exchange and solidarity through harmonious consultation and sincere and constructive cooperation within the framework of the sovereignty and independence of both.”

Border control

In his first official visit, Siniora raised the issue of easing Syria’s tough new border controls that have brought Lebanese overland exports to a near standstill in recent weeks.

Asked about the long line of trucks blocking the road to the Syrian border post of Jdeideh which he crossed that morning, Siniora said everyone wanted a swift solution to the problem.

Lebanese exports have been hit by new border controls  
Lebanese exports have been hit by new border controls  

Lebanese exports have been
hit by new border controls  

Siniora said in a joint news conference with his Syrian counterpart Naji al-Otari on Sunday the two countries have resolved the issue of border delays that have inflicted heavy financial losses on Lebanese exporters deprived of their only open land route.

Syria says the curbs are a security measure after customs officials found explosives on a truck bound for its territory.

But the Lebanese see the step as a retaliation for the anti-Syrian sentiment unleashed by the killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in a Beirut car bombing in February.

Slain Syrian workers

Many Lebanese blamed Syria, which kept a tight grip on its neighbour’s politics after the 1975-1990 civil war, for the killing. Damascus denies any role.

Al-Otari was expected to ask for compensation for Syrian workers killed, injured or dismissed from their jobs during the political turmoil that followed al-Hariri’s death, sources familiar with the issue said. He was also expected to ask what happened to 795 Syrians whose government believes went missing next door.

Al-Otari met on Saturday with the head of a committee that represents the families of Syrians missing in Lebanon, the official Syrian news agency reported without giving details.

But Damascus welcomed the new Lebanese cabinet’s programme.

“The Syrian side welcomes the new Lebanese government’s policy statement regarding Lebanon’s commitment not to become a passage or base for any organisation, power or country that targets its security or that of Syria,” the statement said.

Though the Lebanese cabinet is dominated by critics of Damascus, reflecting the wave of protests that swept the country after al-Hariri’s death, it includes a member of the pro-Syrian Hizb Allah group for the first time and has pledged balanced and solid ties with its larger neighbour.

Source: Reuters