High-ranking Lebanon officials in Syria for talks on much-needed energy imports

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A delegation of high-ranking Lebanese ministers visited Damascus Saturday for talks on importing energy via Syria, the first such official visit since its civil war broke out 10 years ago.

Harsh fuel shortages and power cuts inflicted by Lebanon’s economic collapse have paralyzed businesses like restaurants, shops and industry as well as vital services like hospitals.

Now Beirut hopes to strike a deal to import gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan using Syrian infrastructure – in the face of US sanctions against the Damascus regime.

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The delegation led by Zeina Akar, deputy prime minister of Lebanon’s interim government, also includes Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar, and General Security intelligence agency chief Abbas Ibrahim.

After meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad at the border, the group traveled on to Damascus, where state television announced the beginning of talks at the foreign ministry.

People wait in cars to get fuel at a gas station in Zalka, Lebanon, August 20, 2021. (Reuters)
People wait in cars to get fuel at a gas station in Zalka, Lebanon, August 20, 2021. (Reuters)

Lebanon has maintained diplomatic ties with Syria but it adopted a policy of dissociation from the conflict since it started in 2011, which put a dampener on official dealings.

Lebanese security officials and politicians have made several visits to Syria in recent years, but almost exclusively in a personal capacity or on behalf of political parties that support President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

They include representatives of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group which has been battling alongside Assad’s forces in Syria since the early stages of the war.

The visit comes after the Lebanese presidency last month said that Washington has agreed to help Lebanon secure electricity and natural gas from Jordan and Egypt through Syrian territory.

This implies that the US is willing to waive Western sanctions which prohibit any official transactions with the Syrian government and which have hampered previous attempts by Lebanon to source gas from Egypt.

That announcement followed Hezbollah’s statement that Iran would begin sending fuel to Lebanon, with shipping website Tanker Trackers saying Friday that the first two ships had set off.

Lebanon, a country of more than six million people, is grappling with an economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst in modern times.

The central bank is struggling to afford basic imports, including fuel, which has caused shortages and prolonged power cuts that now last as long as 22 hours per day.

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