A high-level Lebanese ministerial delegation arrived this morning, Saturday, in the Syrian capital, Damascus, in the first high-level official government visit to Syria since the outbreak of the revolution in 2011. Syrian territory all the way to Lebanon.
For months, Lebanon has been witnessing a severe fuel crisis that is reflected in various sectors, including hospitals, bakeries, communications and foodstuffs, on the impact of a protracted economic crisis two years ago, which the World Bank ranked among the worst in the world since 1850.
The official media of the Syrian regime reported the start of the meeting between the two parties at the headquarters of the Syrian Foreign Ministry in Damascus, in the presence of the Minister of Oil in the government of the Syrian regime, Bassam Tohme.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the regime in Syria, Faisal Miqdad, received at the Jdeidet Yabous border crossing this morning, the Lebanese delegation consisting of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Caretaker Government, Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs Zeina Aker, Minister of Finance Ghazi Wazni, Minister of Energy Raymond Ghajar, and Director General Public Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim.
The official Syrian news agency (SANA) reported that the officials would discuss “bilateral cooperation between the two countries, especially the issue of importing Egyptian gas to Lebanon.”
Subsequently, press reports stated that the meeting lasted at the headquarters of the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more than an hour, after which the Secretary-General of the Lebanese-Syrian Supreme Council Nasri al-Khoury confirmed that “Damascus welcomed the Lebanese request regarding energy import, and that the follow-up of the issue from a technical point of view will be carried out through a team joint art between the two countries.
A source in the Lebanese Ministry of Energy told AFP that the visit “falls within the framework of ensuring the regime’s ability in Syria to proceed with the project” of bringing Egyptian gas through Jordan and then Syria.
He pointed out that it is expected to “revive” an agreement signed in 2009 that includes the transfer of Egyptian gas to Lebanon via Syria.
Lebanese activists questioned the source of gas and energy, which Washington initiated to facilitate its access to Lebanon through Syria, especially since Egypt and Jordan concluded deals to buy Israeli gas extracted from the “Leviathan” field.
This is the first official Lebanese government visit to Syria since the outbreak of the revolution there in 2011. Lebanon officially followed the principle of “disassociation from itself” amid major divisions between political forces over the relationship with the Damascus regime, and then the participation of “Hezbollah” in the fighting alongside the regular forces in Syrian.
The two countries maintained diplomatic relations, but official visits declined to a large extent, and were limited to individual initiatives by ministers and personalities representing parties allied to Damascus.
And the Lebanese presidency announced, last month, that it was informed of Washington’s agreement to help Lebanon import electricity and gas from Egypt and Jordan through Syria and Lebanon, which in practice means Washington’s agreement to exempt Lebanon from the international economic sanctions imposed on Syria.
Lebanon has been negotiating with Cairo for more than a year to import energy and gas through Jordan and Syria, according to what a source familiar with the file told AFP, but US sanctions on Syria have always constituted an obstacle to the agreement. The plan also stipulates, according to the source, supplying Lebanon with electric power from Jordan via Syria.
Lebanon informs Washington of Washington’s willingness to assist it in bringing in Egyptian gas, shortly after Hezbollah, backed by Tehran, announced that the first Iranian ship loaded with fuel would head to Lebanon. The ship is currently in the waters of the Red Sea, according to the Tankers Tracker website, which specializes in monitoring ship traffic. A second oil ship sailed a few days ago from Iran towards Lebanon.
As a result of the severe fuel crisis, the ability of the Electricité du Liban (EDL) to provide nutrition to all regions was reduced, which led to an increase in rationing hours to exceed 22 hours per day. Private generators are no longer able to provide the fuel needed to cover the hours of power outages, while citizens stand daily for long hours in front of stations to fill up their cars.
The electricity network and gas pipelines in Syria have been damaged during the last decade due to the military battles, and they need repair and rehabilitation. Reports stated that this issue will be present at the table of the Syrian-Lebanese technical teams, especially since Damascus requires reforming the electricity network and gas pipelines at the expense of the World Bank, in an attempt to benefit from the passage of gas and electricity from its lands.