News & Current Affairs

August 14, 2008

Lebanon-Syria to demarcate border

Lebanon-Syria to demarcate border

Syrian and Lebanese presidents and first ladies

Suleiman’s visit assures progress in badly strained bilateral ties since 2005

Lebanon and Syria have agreed to resume work on formally demarcating their common border as part of efforts to repair years of strained relations.

However, Syria said the work on borders would not cover one of the most contentious areas, the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, until Israel withdrew.

Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman is currently in Damascus for talks with his counterpart Bashar al-Assad.

They also confirmed the setting up of diplomatic ties for the first time.

If the Syrians will go ahead and demarcate the border between Lebanon and Syria, and respect its sovereignty in other ways, then this will have proved to be a very good step
Condoleezza Rice
US Secretary of State

The leaders also agreed to make further efforts to discover what happened to hundreds of Lebanese people who disappeared during the civil war.

Some Lebanese groups accuse Syria of holding them as detainees.

Bi-lateral treaties, which some Lebanese believe are too favourable to Syria, will also be reviewed.

Assad to Beirut

The outcome of the negotiations was announced at news conference by the two foreign ministers, Syria’s Walid Muallem and Lebanon’s Fawzi Salukh.

Other items agreed between the two sides included tackling corruption, economic co-operation and commitment to Arab initiatives in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In addition, President Assad accepted an invitation to visit Lebanon at a date to be decided soon, the foreign ministers said.

Lebanon and Syria have had badly strained relations since the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005. Many Lebanese blame Syria for the killing, but it has repeatedly and adamantly denied involvement.

Syria kept a large military and intelligence presence in Lebanon after the civil war ended in 1990, but it was forced to withdraw after the Hariri assassination because of massive public pressure in Lebanon with strong international support.

Settling relations with Syria is a top priority for the new government in Lebanon.

The US cautiously welcomed developments saying the opening of embassies was “one of the steps that has long been required”.

“Now, if the Syrians will go ahead and demarcate the border between Lebanon and Syria, and respect its sovereignty in other ways, then this will have proved to be a very good step,” US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said.

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Lebanon chief mends ties in Syria

Lebanon chief mends ties in Syria

The Lebanese and Syrian presidents have been holding talks in Damascus, where they formally confirmed a move to establish full diplomatic relations.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman was given a red-carpet welcome by President Bashar al-Assad, the first such visit after a turbulent three years.

Tension has been high since the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese blame Damascus for the killing, but it denies involvement.

The two leaders were meeting in the Syrian capital a month after a summit in Paris, where they agreed to establish diplomatic ties and open embassies.

“The two presidents… have instructed their foreign ministers to take the necessary steps in this regard, starting from today,” said Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to President Assad.

The Arab neighbours are set to normalise relations for the first time since the Arab neighbours gained independence from France in the 1940s.

Hours before Mr Suleiman flew to Damascus for the two-day visit, a bomb exploded in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, the scene of fierce street fighting between pro- and anti-Syria supporters since May.

Lebanon’s pro-Syrian parliament speaker Nabih Berri said the timing of the attack was meant “to prevent the improvement of Lebanese-Syrian relations”.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the attack a “criminal act” and voiced support for Lebanon “in the face of all those who are manipulating its security and stability”.

Tough issues

The BBC’s Bethany Bell in Damascus says despite progress in relations between the two nations, potential stumbling blocks remain – not least over the international tribunal into the death of Mr Hariri.

Past international investigators said Syrian intelligence and its Lebanese associates had played a role, although the report of the latest prosecutor – Daniel Bellemare of Canada – spoke of a criminal network without saying whether it had political motives.

Syrian officials have consistently and strenuously denied any Syrian role.

Syria kept a large military and intelligence presence in Lebanon after the civil war ended in 1990, but it was forced to withdraw after the Hariri assassination because of massive public pressure in Lebanon with strong international support.

Settling relations with Syria is a top priority for the new government in Lebanon.

The unity coalition was formed after the Qatari-mediated Doha accord which ended months of deadlock and bouts of violence between pro-Syria factions and supporters of the Western-backed government.

The Doha accord also allowed the installation of former army chief Mr Suleiman as president, a candidate deemed acceptable on both sides of the political divide.

Other issues for discussion in Damascus are likely to be demarcating the mountainous Lebanon-Syria border and determining the fate of Lebanese detainees in Syria.

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