Lebanon turns to Syria for desperately needed energy imports

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Damascus (AFP)

A delegation of high-ranking Lebanese ministers traveled to Damascus on Saturday for talks on importing energy via Syria, the first such official visit since the start of the civil war 10 years ago.

Severe fuel shortages and power cuts caused by Lebanon’s economic collapse have crippled businesses like restaurants, shops and industry as well as vital services like hospitals.

Today, Beirut hopes to strike a deal to import gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan using Syrian infrastructure – in the face of US sanctions against the Damascus regime.

The delegation led by Zeina Akar, Deputy Prime Minister of the Lebanese interim government, also includes Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar and the head of the General Security Intelligence Agency Abbas Ibrahim.

After meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad at the border, the group traveled to Damascus, where state television announced the start of talks at the Foreign Ministry.

Lebanon has maintained diplomatic relations with Syria, but it has adopted a policy of dissociating the conflict from its onset in 2011, which has put a brake on official relations.

Lebanese security officials and politicians have made several visits to Syria in recent years, but almost exclusively in their personal capacity or on behalf of political parties that support President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

They include representatives of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement which has fought alongside Assad’s forces in Syria since the start of the war.

The visit comes after the Lebanese presidency said last month that Washington had agreed to help Lebanon secure electricity and natural gas from Jordan and Egypt through Syrian territory.

This implies that the United States is ready to lift Western sanctions which prohibit any official dealings with the Syrian government and which have hampered Lebanon’s previous attempts to source gas from Egypt.

The announcement follows Hezbollah’s statement that Iran would start sending fuel to Lebanon, with the Tanker Trackers shipping website claiming on Friday that the first two ships had left.

Lebanon, a country of more than six million inhabitants, is grappling with an economic crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst on the planet in modern times.

The central bank is struggling to afford basic imports, including fuel, which has caused shortages and prolonged blackouts that now last up to 22 hours a day.

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