Lebanon opens embassy in Damascus for first time

March 16th, 2009 - 11:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Damascus/Beirut, March 16 (DPA) Lebanon Monday opened an embassy in neighbouring Syria for the first time in a step toward normalising relations.
The move comes after the two countries agreed earlier this year to establish diplomatic ties for the first time since both gained independence from France in 1943.

Lebanon’s Charge d’Affaires Rami Murtada raised the flag over the embassy headquarters in Abu Rummaneh neighbourhood in Damascus.

Lebanese ambassador to Syria, Michelle Khoury, is to arrive in Damascus at a later date, according to a Lebanese foreign ministry source. Khoury is currently Lebanon’s ambassador to Cyprus.

Syria used to dominate Lebanese politics for 30 years until the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, the uproar over which led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces. Hariri’s assassination was widely blamed by his allies on Damascus, a charge Syria continues to deny.

Syria has in the past resisted establishing diplomatic ties with Lebanon, saying the two countries had a special relationship. For much of Lebanon’s history, Syria has pulled the strings in Lebanon’s political and economic arenas.

Critics of Syria, including France and the US, said that by resisting normal diplomatic relations, Syria was trying to undermine Lebanese sovereignty.

In October last year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had decreed the opening of diplomatic relations with Lebanon. A Syrian embassy was opened in Beirut on Dec 26, 2008. Damascus has yet to name an ambassador.

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