Ministerial Visit Deepens Lebanon’s Engagement With Damascus
A controversial visit by a Lebanese ministerial delegation to the Syrian capital began on Wednesday, with the two sides pledging to boost economic ties, Reuters reported.
Lebanon’s industry and agriculture ministers arrived in Damascus for an international trade fair on Wednesday, alongside a delegation of Lebanese businessmen.
“We are reactivating the trade and economic ties between the two countries,” Lebanon’s industry minister, Hussein Hajj Hassan, told Reuters.
For his part, Syria’s economy minister said the visit marked “a chance for joint action, for reinforcing cooperation, whether it’s in terms of investment or of trade.”
The Lebanese government has not sanctioned the visit and Lebanon’s prime minister has said that any minister who does go to Syria will do so in a personal capacity. However, Hajj Hassan has stressed that he will be there as a government representative.
The visit has challenged Lebanon’s purportedly neutral policy toward the “war next door” and has steered Lebanon toward deeper engagement with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian Warplanes Pound ISIS Along Lebanese Border
Syrian warplanes targeted positions held by the so-called Islamic State in a mountainous section of the Lebanese-Syrian frontier on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
The shelling comes at a time when Hezbollah and the Syrian government are preparing for a major military operation to expel the extremist group from a stretch of land on the Syrian side of the frontier.
Citing Syrian state television, the AP said that Syrian troops and allied fighters captured a strategic hilltop overlooking positions controlled by ISIS on Wednesday.
Lebanese troops also attacked ISIS positions on the Lebanese side of the border on Wednesday and tightened the siege on them, an anonymous Lebanese official told the AP.
The Lebanese army has this week been massing reinforcements and targeting ISIS positions in preparation for the planned offensive against militants entrenched on its side of the border.
Iranian Military General Makes Rare Visit to Turkey
The head of Iran’s armed forces held talks on cooperation in Syria with Turkish military leaders during a rare visit to Turkey this week, Reuters reported.
The visit is the first by an Iranian chief of staff since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, according to Turkish media, and is the latest sign that Ankara and Tehran – which have supported different sides since the start of the Syrian conflict – are increasing cooperation in the war-torn country.
“There have been no such visits between the two countries for a long time, but considering regional developments and security issues – border security and the fight against terrorism – there was a need for such a visit,” Iranian general Mohammad Baqeri told Iranian state television on arrival on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Turkey and Iran signed a de-escalation zone agreement to reduce violence in the war-torn country in the Kazakh capital of Astana in May. Earlier this month, Tehran hosted a trilateral meeting with Turkey and Russia to strengthen the deal and address the implementation of a potential de-escalation zone in the rebel-held province of Idlib in northwestern Syria.
- The Associated Press: Lebanon Prepares for Syria’s Post-War Construction Windfall
- Reuters: Assad’s March East Compounds West’s Syria Dilemma
- The New Arab: Syria Open for Business? We’re Not Buying It
- Atlantic Council: Who’s in Charge?
- Los Angeles Times: Humanitarian Groups Fear Aid Is Being Diverted to Terrorist Group After Militant Takeover of Syrian Province