12/21/2009, 00.00
LEBANON – SYRIA
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Saad Hariri marks new relations between Beirut and Damascus

Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri makes his first official visit to Syria, meets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The 2005 attack is not mentioned. Saudi Arabia brokered the summit. Some in Lebanon fear a return of Syrian influence. Lebanese analyst believes Damascus has rebuilt its privileged position in Lebanon.
Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, his visit to Damascus constitutes a “landmark” during which he held “friendly, open and positive” talks to ease tensions between his country and Syria. In the course of his two-day stay in the Syrian capital, the Lebanese leader met Syrian President three times. They discussed the demarcation of the border between the two countries and future cooperation. The assassination of Rafik Hariri, which some blame on the Syrian government, was not discussed.

“We want privileged, sincere and honest relations . . . in the interest of both countries and both peoples,” the prime minister said at a press conference at the Lebanese Embassy, which opened less than a year ago. He also announced some agreements with President Assad on a number of issues, including borders.

Saudi Arabia played an important role in paving the way for Syrian-Lebanese rapprochement. Moreover, the United States and the West have abandoned their policy of isolating Syria and have instead renewed relations with Damascus.

However, in Lebanon public opinion is still wary about the relationship with Syria, fearful that the visit might signal a return of Syrian influence on Lebanese affairs, which Damascus controlled for 30 years.

For instance, Elias Muhanna, a political analyst who writes on the Lebanese blog Qifa Nabki, “the image of Hariri coming over the mountains means they’ve come full circle. It demonstrates to all the power centres in Damascus” and that “Bashar has restored Syria’s position of strength vis-à-vis Lebanon.”

In 2005, Syria was forced to pull its troops out of Lebanon because of widespread popular unrest following to the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the current prime minister’s father.

At present, an UN-sponsored international tribunal has been investigating the possible involvement of fringe elements in Syria in the assassination.

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