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Assad to Aoun: Syrian-Arab détente will have positive impact on Lebanon

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) meets with former Lebanese president Michel Aoun in Damascus, Syria, on June 6, 2023. (Photo by SANA)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has hailed the recent normalization of diplomatic relations between Damascus and the Arab world, saying the rapprochement will have a “positive impact” on neighboring Lebanon.

He made the remarks on Tuesday during a meeting with former Lebanese president Michel Aoun in the Syrian capital after 14 years.

Assad said he believes “Lebanon’s strength lies in its political and economic stability, and that the Lebanese are capable of creating this stability through dialogue and consensus, and most importantly by adhering to principles and not betting on changes,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

He also underscored that “Lebanon’s stability is in the interest of Syria and the region in general.”

“Syria and Lebanon cannot look at their challenges separately from each other,” Assad said, noting that the Syrian-Arab rapprochement that took place recently at the Arab League summit in Jeddah “will have a positive impact on Syria and Lebanon.”

The Syrian president also said Aoun “had a role in preserving the brotherly relationship between Syria and Lebanon for the benefit of both countries.”

For his part, Aoun described the changes in the Middle East as positive signs that are in the interests of all Arab countries.

The former Lebanese president also said he believes Syria’s recovery and prosperity will reflect positively on Lebanon.

Turning to the issue of Syrian refugees, Aoun said he informed the Syrian president of “the dangerous position of Europe, which refuses to repatriate refugees, tries to integrate them into Lebanese society, and uses every means possible to prevent their return under the pretext of protecting them.”

Assad, in return, reaffirmed that Syria is ready to welcome back its citizens, noting that this must take place in coordination between the two countries.

The last time Michel Aoun visited Damascus was in 2009, two years before the start of the foreign-backed conflict in Syria, after which several Arab countries severed their ties with Damascus.

The meeting came as Lebanese authorities have ramped up efforts to repatriate Syrian refugees. According to statistics released by the Lebanese government, around two million Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon, a country with a population of more than 5.5 million.

It also comes as Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for an election session to be held on June 14 at 11 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) to elect a new head of state. The previous 11 sessions failed amid a lack of consensus and lost quorum.

Lebanon has had no president since Michel Aoun’s term ended on October 31 last year.

An unnamed source close to Aoun told Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen television news network that the Lebanese presidential election “was not on the agenda of Aoun’s discussion with Assad.”

The source also said that Aoun’s visit to Damascus came within a “regular” context, given that Syria is “the gateway to the Levant.”

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