Syria sends envoy to Lebanon

Syria's presidency dispatches an envoy to Lebanon to congratulate newly-elected President Michel Aoun.

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Michel Aoun
Michel Aoun
Reuters

Syria's presidency dispatched an envoy to Lebanon on Monday to congratulate newly-elected President Michel Aoun, the first such official visit in six years.

In a statement, Aoun's office said he had received "a message of congratulations on his election as president of the republic from his Syrian counterpart Bashar Al-Assad carried by Syria's Minister of Presidential Affairs Mansour Azzam."

Speaking after the meeting, Azzam said Assad's message included his hope for a "new era which we hope will bring good things, stability and security for the brotherly nation of Lebanon."

Aoun was elected last week by Lebanese lawmakers ending a two-year political vacuum. Lebanon had been without a president since Michel Suleiman's term ended in May 2014. The parliament 33 times failed to elect a new head of state due to lack of a quorum.

The trip by the Syrian envoy is the first by a Syrian official to Lebanon since 2010, when Assad and then-Saudi King Abdullah visited the country in a bid to tamp rising political tensions.

It is also the first since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011, with protests against Assad's government.

The Syrian conflict has exacerbated existing tensions in Lebanon, whose key political blocs support opposing sides in the war.

The Lebanon-based Hezbollah group, which is allied with Aoun, backs Assad against the rebels fighting him.

Hezbollah is powerful both militarily and in parliament.

On the flip side, Lebanon's newly-appointed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who leads the country's other main political bloc, is fiercely opposed to Assad.

Hariri is the son former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated in 2005, an assassination for which Hezbollah has been blamed, though it denies the charges.

Hariri offered Aoun his surprise endorsement in turn for being appointed prime minister, helping end the political vacuum in Lebanon.

Syria's government was quick to congratulate Aoun on his election, though Azzam dismissed questions about whether his trip was meant to signal a fresh page in bilateral ties.

"There was not an old page for there to be a new page," he told reporters, saying bilateral ties were continuing on the basis of "the common interests of the two countries, security and stability."

Aoun also received Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday, who described the end of the presidential vacuum in the country as "a victory for all Lebanese".

Iran is a key ally of Hezbollah and Syria's government, and has jockeyed with Saudi Arabia for influence in Lebanon.

AFP contributed to this report.








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