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Middle east

Beirut opens first embassy in Damascus

Latest update : 2009-03-16

Lebanon has opened an embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus for the first time. Syria dominated Lebanese politics for 30 years, until the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005 led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces.

REUTERS - A Lebanese embassy opened in Damascus on Monday after international pressure on the Syrian government to establish diplomatic ties and treat its smaller neighbour as a fully sovereign country.

The Lebanese flag was raised on the premises in the centre of Damascus and the embassy is now staffed with a charge d’affaires, a Lebanese official said.

The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since Britain and France carved them out of the remnants of the old Ottoman Empire in 1920.

Syria, which withdrew its forces from Lebanon after a 29 year presence in 2005, opened an embassy in Beirut last year but has not named an ambassador. Lebanon has named Michel Khoury as its ambassador.

Syria has in the past resisted establishing diplomatic ties with Lebanon, saying the two countries had an especially close relationship. For much of history, rulers based in Syria controlled what is now Lebanon.

But Syria’s critics, including France and the United States, said that, by resisting normal diplomatic relations with Lebanon, Syria was trying to undermine its sovereignty.

Syria dominated Lebanese politics for 30 years until the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005, which led to popular protests and the eventual withdrawal of Syrian forces.

Anti-Syrian politicians, including Hariri’s son, Saad, have blamed Damascus for the killing of Hariri. A United Nations investigation implicated high-level Syrian security officials in the incident but Syria denies involvement.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree in October to open diplomatic relations with Lebanon after a Lebanese political crisis ended in May and relations improved between Syria and the new Lebanese government.

Date created : 2009-03-16

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