Iraqi Airways to resume flights to Syria after 8-year break

Iraqi Airways said that it will resume it first flights to Syria since 2011on Saturday. (File/AFP) 
Updated 16 May 2019
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Iraqi Airways to resume flights to Syria after 8-year break

  • Most airlines stopped flying over Syria after the conflict broke out, with many taking longer routes to circumvent the war zone
  • Jordanian officials have also visited Damascus to discuss plans to reopen Syrian airspace to its Royal Jordanian's commercial flights

BAGHDAD: Iraq's national carrier is to resume flights to the capital of neighbouring Syria for the first time since the war there erupted in 2011, a spokesman said Thursday.
Iraqi Airways will operate a weekly service from Baghdad to Damascus starting Saturday, spokesman Layth Al-Rubaie told AFP.
Rubaie said the resumption of flights between the two neighbours was "important", citing bilateral trade, tourism and "the size of the Iraqi community living in Syria".
The Syrian transport ministry welcomed the decision in a statement on its official Facebook page.
Rubaie said the last flight from Baghdad to Damascus took place in December 2011, before the service was suspended due to the conflict that erupted in Syria that year.
Most airlines stopped flying over Syria after the conflict broke out, with many taking longer routes to circumvent the war zone.
But the conflict has wound down in recent years, after major regime advances against rebels and extremists with Russian military backing since 2015.
Damascus has been largely spared the violence.
In April, the Syrian government said it had agreed to allow Qatar Airways to resume flights over the country.
"The agreement came on the principle of reciprocity, as SyrianAir crosses Qatari airspace and never stopped flying to Doha throughout the war," the Syrian transport ministry said at the time.
The use of Syrian airspace would see "increased revenues in hard currency for the benefit of the Syrian state", it added.
Syria was suspended from the Arab League in November 2011 as the death toll escalated and several regional powers bet on President Bashar Al-Assad's demise.
But the regime, backed by allies Russia and Iran, has since re-conquered much of the territory it had lost to rebels and extremists, and now controls some two-thirds of the country.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have reopened their missions in Damascus.
Jordan reopened a key land crossing with its Syrian neighbour in October last year after a three-year hiatus.
Analysts said the move would help Syria inch its way back into trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government demonstrations that sparked a brutal regime crackdown.
The spiralling violence drew in regional powers and has killed more than 370,000 people, displacing millions.


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 21 May 2019
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.