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Syria, Lebanon agree to establish official ties

Syria and Lebanon agree to establish full diplomatic ties for the first time in a step toward easing tensions between the two sides that have fueled Lebanon's turmoil.

world Updated: Aug 14, 2008 09:48 IST

Syria and Lebanon agreed to establish full diplomatic ties for the first time in a step toward easing tensions between the two countries that have fueled Lebanon's turmoil.

Many Lebanese had long seen Syria's reluctance to establish ties as proof it never gave up historic claims that its smaller neighbour is part of its territory and that it still aims to dominate Lebanon.

The step is a significant symbolic victory for them, seen as Damascus' formal acknowledgment that Lebanon is an independent nation.

But Syria only agreed to formal ties on Wednesday after its influence in Lebanon was guaranteed by the creation on Tuesday of a unity government in Beirut that gives Damascus' ally Hezbollah a strong say in decision-making.

Still, the agreement, along with the unity government, could go a long way to easing three years of continuous crisis in Lebanon, where the power struggle between pro-Western and pro-Syrian factions brought the country to the brink of civil war. Much depends now on how well the sides, who remain rivals, get along: An attempt by either to dominate could spark new tensions.

Syria controlled Lebanon for nearly 30 years since the 1970s, when it sent its army into the country as peacekeepers during its 1975-1990 civil war. Its direct hold was broken in 2005, when anger over the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, which many blamed on Damascus, forced it to withdraw its troops.

Even after the withdrawal, anti-Syrian Lebanese accuse Damascus of trying to maintain its influence, saying it was egging Hezbollah to topple the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.