Syria and Lebanon agreed yesterday to negotiate the demarcation of their border, a longtime demand of the Lebanese as they seek to normalize relations with their long- dominant larger neighbor.
A day after the countries’ presidents agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, the two men released a joint statement saying a joint committee would formally demarcate the border, which has been ill defined since the two countries became independent from French rule in the 1940s.
The agreements on diplomatic ties and the border are a victory for Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who traveled to Syria on Wednesday in a landmark visit — the first by a Lebanese head of state to Syria in more than three years.
The border demarcation has long been a major demand of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian factions, along with diplomatic ties, as recognition by Syria of Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence.
Opening diplomatic ties was another step which countries including France and the US had demanded of Syria, which dominated its neighbor until 2005 when the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri forced it to withdraw troops from Lebanon.
It was not clear when action would be taken on the agreements. No date was set for the opening of embassies or for work on the border to begin.
There have not been any official attempts to define the border.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said at a news conference yesterday that one disputed area under Israeli control would not be demarcated while it remains under Israeli occupation.
Israel seized the area, known as Chebaa Farms, from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. It is located where the borders of three countries meet. Lebanon and Syria claim it is Lebanese territory. But a UN-drawn border between Israel and Lebanon marks it as Syrian land under Israeli occupation.
The statement from the two presidents also said both sides agreed to review all bilateral agreements in an “objective” way.
Many Lebanese claim that political and economic agreements signed between the two countries during the 1990s were lopsided in Syria’s favor.
Syria controlled Lebanon for nearly 30 years, after sending its army in as peacekeepers during the 1975 to 1990 civil war.
Its direct hold was broken in 2005, when international pressure over the slaying of Hariri — blamed by many on Damascus — forced the troops to leave.
Even after the withdrawal, some Lebanese accused Damascus of trying to maintain its influence, saying it was encouraging Hezbollah to topple the Western-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
They also accused Syria of being behind a string of assassinations of anti-Syria figures since 2005 to intimidate Beirut and destabilize the country.
Syria denies any role in the Hariri killing or the other attacks.
In their statement yesterday, Suleiman and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also pledged to intensify efforts to determine the fate of their citizens believed to be missing in each other’s countries.
International human rights groups say hundreds of Lebanese have been imprisoned in Syria since Damascus first sent troops into Lebanon in 1976.
The Syrian government says it freed the last of the prisoners nearly eight years ago.
Saad al-Hariri, Rafik al-Hariri’s son, welcomed the establishment of diplomatic ties, describing it as an accomplishment for the Lebanese people.
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