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Lebanese Delegation Visits Syria, Sparking Debate About ‘Normalization with Damascus’

Lebanese Delegation Visits Syria, Sparking Debate About ‘Normalization with Damascus’

Thursday, 9 February, 2023 - 07:00
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (C-R) meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib (C-L) in Damascus on February 8, 2023. (Photo by SANA / AFP)

An official visit by a Lebanese ministerial delegation to Damascus stirred a debate between those who said the trip normalized relations with the regime and others who considered it a "duty" after the devastating earthquake that recently struck Türkiye and Syria.

On Tuesday, Lebanese rescue workers were also dispatched to Syria to assist local teams searching for survivors.

The ministerial delegation headed to Damascus at the request of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. It held several meetings with Syrian officials on humanitarian affairs and the repercussions of the devastating earthquake that struck several areas in Syria.

The delegation was headed by the caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Abdallah Bou Habib. It included caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transportation Ali Hamieh, the Caretaker Minister of Social Affairs, Hector Hajjar, caretaker Minister of Agriculture Abbas Hajj Hassan and senior advisers and officials from the four ministries.

They met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad.

The delegation conveyed to Assad the condolences and solidarity of Mikati and the Lebanese cabinet.

They discussed measures and decisions taken by the Lebanese government to provide assistance to Syria and coordinate with relief organizations. They also announced that Lebanon was willing to open airports and seaports to receive aid that comes to Syria from any country or destination.

Assad thanked the delegation for their support and the measures the Lebanese government took to provide and facilitate aid dispatch to Syria.

The visit sparked criticism among those opposing the Syrian regime, considering it an unjustified step towards normalizing relations, indicating that aid could have been sent without an official meeting with the regime.

The pro-Syrian regime parties said, however, that the visit was a "duty" towards Syria and its people after the disaster.

Lebanese MP Ibrahim Mneimneh wondered if the delegation's visit aimed to normalize ties with the Assad regime or to show support to the Syrian people and provide aid.

On his Twitter account, Mneimneh drew question marks on the purpose behind visiting the presidential palace, adding: "Wasn't it more useful to send aid and support directly to the affected areas? Is there anyone seeking to exploit the suffering for regional political agendas?"

But the Hezbollah bloc issued a statement expressing solidarity and support with the people in Syria and Türkiye.

It called on all the states, governments, and international and humanitarian organizations to immediately provide aid to save those who remain trapped under the rubble, rescue the injured, pull the casualties and shelter the homeless.

The statement pointed out that Syria and Türkiye deserve to be supported by all Arab and Islamic countries.

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