BCN-09 Lebanon foreign minister urges Arab League to readmit Syria

ZCZC

BCN-09

LEBANON-ECONOMY-SUMMIT

Lebanon foreign minister urges Arab League to readmit Syria

BEIRUT, Jan 19, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Lebanon’s foreign minister on Friday
called for the Arab League to readmit Syria ahead of a regional economic
summit in Beirut, more than seven years after it suspended Damascus’
membership.

“Syria is the most notable absentee at our conference, and we feel the
weight of its absence,” Gibran Bassil said.

“Syria should be among us… without us having to wait for a permission
for it to return,” he added at a meeting with other ministers from Arab
League nations.

The Arab League suspended Syria in November 2011, as the death toll rose
in the regime’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.

But in recent years, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have gained the
military upper hand against rebels and jihadists, and efforts to bring his
government back into the Arab fold appear underway.

In December, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir made the first visit by any
Arab leader to the Syrian capital since 2011, and the United Arab Emirates
reopened its embassy in Damascus after closing it in 2012.

On Thursday, the head of the Arab League, Ahmed Abul Gheit, said member
states have not reached a consensus on Syria’s return to the 22-member bloc.

“When there is an Arab consensus, and when we are sure there is no
objection from one side or the other, it will be as simple as putting it on
the agenda of a meeting” of Arab foreign ministers, he said.

Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions
since it started with anti-government protests.

Only the presidents of Somalia and Mauritania are expected to attend the
Arab Economic Summit on Sunday.

Lebanese newspapers ran despairing headlines on Friday.

“The Beirut shock… a summit without heads of state,” the country’s
oldest Arabic-language newspaper An-Nahar said.

The conference is set to discuss the digital economy, as well as a long-
suggested project for an Arab free trade zone.

Lebanon also hopes to put forward an initiative calling on countries in
the region to help spread the burden of 1.5 million refugees living on its
soil.

BSS/AFP/HR/0955