Syria, Lebanon coordinate on combating terrorism

Follows two countries' decision to establish formal diplomatic relations for first time since they gained independence in the 1940s.

Syria Lebanon deal 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Syria Lebanon deal 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Lebanon and Syria agreed Monday to work together to combat terrorism and boost security along their shared borders. The announcement was made during a visit to Syria by Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud aimed at strengthening security cooperation between the two neighbors. It is the first visit by a Lebanese interior minister to Damascus since Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, which many blamed on Syria. Damascus denies the claims. It follows the two countries' decision in August to establish formal diplomatic relations for the first time in their turbulent history since they gained independence in the 1940s. A statement released after Baroud's meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Bassam Abdul-Maguid, said the two sides agreed to form a committee to discuss "cooperation on combating terrorism" and better controlling their borders. Syria has deployed troops along Lebanon's northern border in recent weeks after its government said militants in northern Lebanon posed a security threat. Baroud's visit also comes days after Syrian state-run TV aired "confessions" by suspected Islamic militants claiming responsibility for a deadly Damascus car bombing in September. Ten men and one woman said they are members of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam group that has been active in Lebanon, where it fought the army in 2007. The station gave no indication of how or when they had been arrested but the suspects recounted what they said was cross-border activity of the group, across the northern Lebanon border, reaching into the Syrian capital of Damascus, and crossing Syria's border with Iraq. The suspects in the broadcast Thursday claimed they had links to Lebanon's main Sunni Muslim political movement headed by pro-Western parliament majority leader, Saad Hariri. A statement issued Monday by Hariri called the televised confessions "a bad movie" which he said was part of a Syrian campaign aimed at discrediting his group. His movement and others opposed to Syria in Lebanon claim Fatah Islam was the creation of Syrian intelligence with the purpose of destabilizing Lebanon. Meanwhile, a Lebanese army statement said security troops have arrested five people from Palestinian refugee camps in north and south Lebanon, suspected of involvement in terrorist acts. The statement did not elaborate.