SYRIA: After years on the outs, Damascus and Beirut now partners
For more than three years, Lebanese officials and political leaders accused Syria of fostering instability in Lebanon. According to the Lebanese, Syria was plotting bomb attacks. Syria was dispatching “terrorists." Syria was manipulating Lebanese politics.
Er, never mind.
Lebanon’s attitude toward the Syrians has now changed. And dramatically.
On Monday, Lebanon’s Interior Minister Ziad Baroud made a landmark visit to Damascus to discuss common security challenges facing both countries, especially the danger coming from radical Islamist groups.
Baroud and his Syrian counterpart, Bassam Abdul-Majid, agreed to set up a commission "to put into place the basis of coordination in the fight against terrorism and crime," the two said in a statement read out to reporters after their meeting.
The commission will be also tasked with “finding a joint mechanism for controlling the borders,” according to Syria’s official news agency, SANA.
Baroud was accompanied by two senior security officers, Wafiq Jizzini from General Security and Ashraf Rifi of the Internal Security Forces, or ISF.
Lebanon and Syria have both recently experienced deadly bomb attacks allegedly carried out by Islamist militants, who some say move relatively freely between the porous border separating the two countries.
In September, Damascus was hit by an unprecedented suicide bomb attack that killed 17 people. Last week, Syrian state television aired what were described as confessions by members of an Al Qaeda-inspired Islamist group active in northern Lebanon claiming responsibility for the Damascus bombing.
A member of the Fatah al Islam group said that they had received funding from the main Western-backed political group in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Sunni-led coalition repeatedly accused Syrian security services of having ties with Fatah al Islam.
On Monday, lawmaker Saad Hariri, who heads the anti-Syrian coalition, called the confessions on Syrian TV "mere lies and fabrications."
Members of the group were arrested recently by Lebanon’s army, accused of carrying out two deadly attacks against Lebanese soldiers in August and September of this year.
The group allegedly vowed to take revenge against the army after losing a fierce three-month battle in a Palestinian refugee camp in 2007.
The leader of the group, Shaker Al-Abssi, is still at large. Other members of the group are suspected to be hiding in the lawless Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al Helwe in southern Lebanon, where they are said to have plotted recent attacks and assembled explosive devices.
-- Raed Rafei in Beirut
Photo: Syrian Interior Minister Bassam Abdul-Majid, right, receives his Lebanese counterpart Ziad Baroud, second from right, in Damascus on Monday. Credit: Bassem Tellawi / Associated Press
P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.