BEIRUT: Iraqi Transport Minister Hadi al-Amiri arrived in Beirut over the weekend to address the recent incident in which a Middle East Airlines plane was forced to return to the Lebanese capital midflight to collect his son.
Amiri, who arrived at the Rafik Hariri International Airport Saturday night, said his trip to Lebanon was aimed at affirming strong ties with Beirut and clearing the air over the controversial episode with Lebanese officials.
Earlier this week, an MEA plane was forced to return to Beirut in midair after Iraqi officials refused to provide clearance for it to land in Baghdad without Amiri's son on board.
Amiri’s son, Mahdi, was late and missed the flight. The incident caused an uproar in the two countries and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said he will punish those responsible for the flight incident.
On Friday, Iraqi authorities arrested a Baghdad Airport Assistant Manager Samer Kibbeh during a raid on his office in connection to the case.
Lebanon’s Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter and MEA chairman Mohammad Hout were at the airport to receive Amiri.
“The purpose of the visit is to strengthen ties between the two countries and affirm that the incident that happened recently will not affect the deep ties between Baghdad and Beirut,” Amiri told reporters.
“The visit is also aimed at reaching an understating [with Lebanon] in order to resolve such instances without a media frenzy,” he added. “This will pass and our ties will remain as strong. We even have the desire to develop them further."
Amiri also vowed to hold accountable anyone revealed to be involved in the incident upon his return to Baghdad, without commenting on media reports regarding his son's role.
Meanwhile, Hout said his company welcomed Amiri’s visit and announced that MEA just opened a new Beirut-Basra route, which, he said, will run an average of two flights per week.
He also said last week's incident did not affect Lebanese-Iraqi ties and that MEA continued its flights as usual to Baghdad.