Arab states snub Syria over summit

Bashar Assad is also unlikely to be invited to the next Arab League summit in Tunisia
Updated 08 January 2019

Arab states snub Syria over summit

  • Lebanon resists Hezbollah pressure to issue invitation, Arab League cancels talks on readmission
  • The Arab Economic and Social Development Summit will be held next week

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Monday resisted mounting pressure from Hezbollah to invite a delegation from Syria to an Arab economic summit next week in Beirut.

Syrian leader Bashar Assad is also unlikely to be invited to the next Arab League summit in Tunisia in March, after a planned meeting to discuss Syria’s readmission to the body was canceled.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 and imposed political and economic sanctions over the Syrian civil war. Three months later, the Gulf Cooperation Council states withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus. 

However, as the Assad regime solidifies its military victory after seven years of war, with help from Russia and Iran, there is growing pressure to normalize relations.

In Lebanon, the campaign is being led by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. The group’s parliamentary bloc said it was “in Lebanon’s interest to invite Syria to participate in the Arab Economic
and Social Development Summit,” which begins in Beirut on Jan. 16.

Inviting Syria “would strengthen Lebanon and would be in its strategic interest, especially as current developments are creating a positive Arab atmosphere that is seeing Arab states rushing back to Damascus, and as Syria’s closest neighbor and considering the country’s interests, Lebanon should be at the forefront of efforts to reinforce and strengthen this atmosphere,” Hezbollah said.

If Syria were not invited the summit should be postponed, the group said, but Lebanon rejected both suggestions.

“Lebanon is hosting and organizing the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit but is not the one inviting states. Invitations remain the competence of the Arab League,” Rafiq Chlala, head of the summit’s media committee, told Arab News. 

“Syria had not attended the previous Arab summits upon the Arab League’s decision, but it can return to participating by a decision from the Arab League,” he said.

“Lebanon has nothing to do with this issue, and President Aoun has pledged not to postpone the economic summit and to hold it on time.”

President Michel Aoun confirmed that the summit “will be held on time,” and said Lebanon’s failure for the past eight months to form a Cabinet of ministers under Prime Minister Saad Hariri was no reason to postpone it.

“The current government is exercising its powers according to the constitution,” he said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, have already confirmed their attendance. Other Arab leaders are expected to do so in the next few days.

Delegates will meet initially on Jan. 16 to agree on the topics for discussion and draft a communique. Foreign ministers will meet on Jan. 18, followed by delegation chiefs and national leaders on Jan. 19, before the full summit on Jan. 20.

Jordan to host Yemen talks on prisoner exchange

Updated 16 January 2019

Jordan to host Yemen talks on prisoner exchange

  • A follow-up committee will discuss implementing the deal agreed in UN-brokered peace talks last month in Sweden

AMMAN: The next stage of the fragile Yemen peace process will take place in Jordan.

The government in Amman agreed on Tuesday to a UN request to host a meeting between the Yemeni government and Iran-backed Houthi militias to discuss a prisoner swap deal that would allow thousands of families to be reunited.

A follow-up committee will discuss implementing the deal agreed in UN-brokered peace talks last month in Sweden. 

The agreement to free prisoners simultaneously was part of confidence-building measures that included a plan to withdraw from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

The two sides exchanged lists of about 15,000 prisoners for a swap agreed at the start of the Sweden talks and delegates said it would be conducted via the Houthi-held Sanaa airport in north Yemen and the government-held Sayun airport in the south.

The process would be overseen by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The operation will require the Saudi-led military coalition to guarantee that air space is secure for flights, the ICRC said.

The warring parties in Yemen have so far refused to talk face-to-face during two meetings to discuss the redeployment of forces from Hodeidah, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, the head of the monitoring team, had to shuttle between government and Houthi representatives in different rooms.

Dujarric said Cammaert was trying to find “a mutually acceptable way forward” to redeploy forces from Hodeidah and the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Isa.

“Recent discussions have been constructive” and Cammaert “continues to encourage the parties to resume the joint meetings in order to finalize a mutually agreed redeployment plan,” Dujarric said.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths said last week there would be a new round of talks in January but diplomats said he was now looking to February.