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Two Lebanese ministers make controversial Damascus visit

Lebanese Minister of Industry Hussein Hajj Hassan, left, in Damascus. (Reuters)
BEIRUT: Two Lebanese ministers held talks on Thursday in Syria on the sidelines of the opening of the Damascus International Fair.
Minister of Agriculture Ghazi Zaiter and Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan had received an invitation from the Syrian government to attend the fair.
After an intense political debate inside the Lebanese Cabinet regarding these visits, in which the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri had said that they would be in a personal capacity, the two ministers attended the fair.
Two days ago Al-Hariri reiterated the visits were personal. However, both ministers insisted the visits were in an official capacity.
The controversial trip has received considerable attention in Syria. The national Syrian media had received them at the Lebanese-Syrian border crossing of Jdaidet Yabous. “We will participate in the Damascus International Fair as Lebanese companies and producers and we will hold talks with Syrian officials on the common economic issues between the two brotherly countries, and we are convinced that the historic relations between Lebanon and Syria will continue,” said Hajj Hassan, who represents Hezbollah in the Lebanese government.
He went on to praise “the Syrian people, army and leaders with the great victories achieved by the Syrians and their allies in countering terrorism and standing resolute against the American-Israeli project that targeted Syria.”
“We will discuss with Syrian officials the means to implement the agreements signed between the two countries in terms of agriculture and industry, and despite all what has been said about the visit, we came here with full conviction and faith,” said Ghazi Zaiter, who represents the Amal movement in the Lebanese government.
He met with the Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis, who told him that “Syria is ready to supply Lebanon with an additional 500 megawatts of electricity at prices lower than those paid for the Turkish power ships” (that Lebanon had rented from Turkey).
The Lebanese minister also discussed with his Syrian counterpart Ahmad Al-Qadri “the mechanisms to promote and develop agricultural relations between the two countries,” the Syrian News Agency reported. Al-Qadri said that a joint technical committee from the two ministries will meet next week in Lebanon, stressing the need to combat all forms of agricultural smuggling between the two countries.
Zaiter insisted he went to Damascus as minister of agriculture, at the official invitation of the Syrian minister of economy.
“Some are trying to label it as a visit in a personal capacity, and we respect these political positions but they will be corrected soon and we will resuscitate the cooperation according to the common history of the two brotherly countries,” he said.
After his meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Mohammed Samer Al-Khalil, Hussein Hajj Hassan said: “The political and security developments in Syria led to victories and political, security, military and economic breakthroughs and this will have many impacts on Lebanon, the most important of which is the increase in security, military, political and economic stability in Lebanon.”
He stressed that it was also reflected on several other levels, including displaced Syrians in Lebanon. “The recovery of the Syrian economy leads to the recovery of the Lebanese economy thanks to the principles we believe in,” Hajj Hassan added.
Lebanese Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos joined the two ministers in Damascus Thursday afternoon, after the meeting of the Lebanese Cabinet that was held at the Presidential Palace. He said that the visits of the Al-Marada movement to Syria have always been sustained during the past six years.
“We have neither hidden this fact nor avoided visiting Syria as Marada ministers or officials,” he said.
In a statement, Fenianos added: “Hezbollah has always maintained good relations with Syria and talks between Speaker Nabih Berri and the Syrian Arab Republic were always sustained at the highest levels.
“We came to Syria without the consent of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He has an opinion and we have a different one. Everyone has his own convictions.”
Fenianos went on to say “there is a political team that wants to brag about its refusal, aiming to mobilize its followers, due to the lack of material that would help in the coming parliamentary elections.”
In this context, the president of the General Labor Union in Lebanon, Bechara El-Asmar, announced his participation in the work of the International Trade Union Forum on “Solidarity with Syrian People and Workers against Terrorism, Blockade, and Imperial Intervention Policies”. This forum is organized by the Syrian Labor Union on Sept. 11 and 12 in Damascus.

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