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Syria invites Siniora to Arab summit

Latest update : 2008-03-14

Syria finally invited Lebanon's prime minister Fouad Siniora to the Arab summit in Damascus this month. But there are doubts as to whether he will accept the invitation.

Syria on Thursday officially invited Lebanon to the Arab summit, a move seen as a bid to ease tensions with Arab countries who had hinted they might boycott the meeting should Beirut be excluded.

The Syrian invitation was addressed to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, but there were doubts on whether he would accept.

Some cabinet ministers criticized Damascus for not following standard protocol in extending the invitation and said Lebanon should boycott the meet because of Syria's role in the country's protracted presidential crisis.

The invititation was submitted by Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Arnous to Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.

"I have received an invitation from Syrian premier Mohammad Naji Otri's envoy for Prime Minister Fuad Siniora to attend the 20th Arab summit," said Salloukh, one of six opposition ministers who resigned from the government in November 2006 but who has nonetheless still been fulfilling some of his official duties.

"My ministry will submit the invitation to the prime minister when he returns from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit being held in Dakar," he added.

The Syrian foreign ministry issued a statement quoting Arnous as saying that it would be up to Lebanon to determine at what level it will be represented at the summit.

"Due to the presidential void, Lebanon will choose the person who will represent it at the summit and Syria will receive them cordially," the statement quote Arnous as saying.

The Arab summit is scheduled for March 29-30 in Damascus. It has been mired in controversy over Lebanon's participation and the presidential crisis it is facing because of a standoff between the opposition, backed by Syria and Iran, and the majority backed by the West and many Arab states.

"The fact that the invitation to the summit was delivered to a resigned minister proves once more that the Syrian regime does not want to recognise or to admit that Lebanon is a free, independent, sovereign country" Social Affairs Minister Nayla Muawad told AFP.

She blamed Syria for standing in the way of electing a president in Lebanon.

"Either Lebanon is represented by a president or it should not participate," she said.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since November, when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his mandate after the country's pro- and anti-Syrian camps failed to elect a successor.

Sixteen parliamentary sessions have failed to break the impasse and a new session is scheduled for March 25, just days before the summit.

Youth and Sports Minister Ahmed Fatfat and Muawad told AFP the cabinet will decide whether Lebanon will attend the summit.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt accuse Syria of blocking the election of a president in Lebanon, which was under Syrian military domination for 29 years until Damascus withdrew its troops in 2005 following the assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

Syria has been implicated in the killing but has denied involvement.

Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which along with Syria and Lebanon are among the seven founding members of the Arab League, have linked the level of their participation at the Arab summit to the election of a president in Beirut.

There have also been reports they could boycott the summit to show their displeasure at Syria's meddling in Lebanese affairs.

The 16-month political crisis in Lebanon is the worst since the end of the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

Date created : 2008-03-13