BEIRUT: A large Lebanese delegation of around 50 political figures traveled to Syria for talks with President Bashar Assad Sunday in a move likely to raise tension in an already divided Lebanon over the crisis next door.
The visiting Lebanese delegation was composed of notable pro-Assad figures and parties from all sects, including Hussein Khalil, the political aide of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah; caretaker State Minister Ali Qanso; former minister Abdel-Rahim Mrad; Free Patriotic Movement MP Selim Aoun; Baath MP Assem Qanso; the secretary-general of Harakat al-Umma, Sheikh Abdel-Nasser al-Jabri; and others.
This was the biggest Lebanese delegation to visit Assad since clashes broke out in Syria two years ago.
Although Damascus pulled its troops from Lebanon after an almost 29-year presence in the aftermath of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Syrian administration still enjoys wide support among the Lebanese, mainly within the March 8 coalition.
The unrest in Syria has significantly widened the schism between the March 8 coalition and the March 14 alliance. Many fear that the divide over the Syrian conflict will lead to importing the crisis to Lebanon.
Assad told the delegation that Damascus would pursue its unyielding fight against “terrorist groups” in parallel with the implementation of a political plan devised by the government to put an end to the battles.
Assad told the Lebanese delegation that “the situation in Syria is improving due to steadfastness of the Syrian people and their rallying around the Syrian Army,” Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.
SANA said Assad discussed with the Lebanese delegation the overall situation in the region and “in Lebanon and Syria in particular.” Assad stressed that there would be no reconciliation with “Takfiri and terrorist groups.”
Assad said the political, cultural and social diversity of Lebanon and Syria was their strength, immunized them against the “intellectual invasion” targeting the region, and contributed in thwarting “foreign plots that seek to impose a Sykes-Picot-like agreement to divide the region on sectarian and ethnic basis.”
The Syrian president was referring to the 1916 agreement that divided Arab Levant provinces of the Ottoman Empire into areas of British and French control.
“Syria and Lebanon have always been pioneers in promoting unity and cohesion, particularly through nationalist, pan-Arab and Nasserite parties, which contributed greatly to spreading and bolstering pan-Arab nationalist sentiments,” SANA quoted him as saying.
According to SANA, the delegation told Assad that Syria was facing an “international conspiracy” and urged Arab nations to “become involved in foiling the plots targeting Syria’s pan-Arab role and the civilized and moderate Islam the country represents.”