'Lebanon, Syria share stance vs. Israel'

Lebanons Hariri arrives

saad hariri 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
saad hariri 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The close relationship between Syria and Lebanon strengthens both countries and reinforces the united Arab stance against Israel, which continues to violate Arab rights, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri said Saturday during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad. In the meeting, which lasted three hours, the two leaders reportedly discussed advancing strategic ties between the nations in a way that would benefit both their peoples. Lebanon's prime minister, who has blamed neighboring Syria for the assassination of his father, visited Damascus Saturday for the first time since the 2005 killing - a trip that a close associate said was extremely difficult for him to make. The 39-year-old Hariri appealed for relations with Syria based on "clarity and honesty." He was greeted warmly by Assad upon his arrival at the presidential palace at the start of his two-day visit, and Lebanese media said he would attend a dinner banquet hosted by Assad. Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban told reporters their talks were "frank" and "succeeded in overcoming difficulties that marred relations in the past five years." "The guarantee to that is the will of both President Assad and Hariri to build a positive and constructive relationship," she said. Syria directly dominated Lebanon for nearly 30 years and kept tens of thousands of troops on its soil. After the killing of Hariri's father, Rafik, Syria came under intense pressure from its opponents in Lebanon, who staged massive protests, and from the West, forcing it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. Syria repeatedly denied involvement in the assassination and a series of other political slayings and bombings that followed, but Hariri and his supporters continued to implicate Syria in the killing. Anti-Syrian parties were swept to power in 2005 elections in Lebanon. The visit by Hariri was "very difficult on the personal level" and involves "great sacrifice," said Hariri loyalist and former lawmaker Mustafa Alloush. "But as prime minister of Lebanon, it is quite normal to have such a visit... It is necessary and there is a need to settle all aspects of the relationship," Alloush told The Associated Press. He said the visit did not mean Lebanon had dropped its belief that Syria was responsible for the killing of Rafik Hariri, who also served as prime minister. "But this matter is up to the international tribunal now; it is no longer a personal issue," Alloush said. A UN-backed tribunal has been set up to prosecute the assassins, but no suspects have been charged. Syria has sought recently to improve its relations with the West, largely through its actions in Lebanon. Assad backed a peace deal between rival political factions in Lebanon that ended sectarian violence in May 2008. Last year, Syria established formal diplomatic relations with Lebanon and set up an embassy in Lebanon for the first time since the countries' independence from France in the 1940s. Syria still maintains influence in Lebanon through its backing of the terrorist group Hizbullah. Hariri and his pro-Western political allies are in an uneasy power-sharing government with a Hizbullah-led grouping.