The international community has welcomed Lebanon and Syria’s efforts to establish formal ties with each other. But, in Beirut, news that the neighbours are to open embassies in their respective capitals for the first time since their independence has divided opinion.
There is scepticism among some Lebanese. “I don’t see why it is important,” said one man, arguing that setting up diplomatic relations won’t solve anything.
But others see it as a positive step. “Syria and Lebanon are neighbouring and sister countries,” another man added. “There should be formal ties out of respect.’” The landmark decision has been confirmed by the nations’ leaders who have met for the first time, in Paris.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has signalled his willingness to improve relations with both Lebanon and Israel. Moving to end years of isolation from the West at the EU-Mediterranean summit, he said peace is the priority and that, without it, effective economic co-operation is not possible.
Damascus has long been a dominant player in Lebanon’s political and military affairs. The establisment of embassies would mark an important shift in relations, amounting to recognition by Syria of Lebanon’s sovereignty.