DAMASCUS — Syria has agreed to help crisis-hit Lebanon by allowing gas and electricity transit through its territory, an official saidon Saturday during the first high-level visit from Beirut to Damascus since Syria’s civil war erupted 10 years ago.
Harsh fuel shortages and power cuts inflicted by Lebanon’s economic collapse have paralyzed businesses such as restaurants, shops, and industry, as well as vital services like hospitals.
Now Beirut hopes to strike a deal to import gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan using Syrian infrastructure — with Washington’s blessing despite United States sanctions against the Damascus regime.
Syria is “ready” to help Lebanon with “transit for Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity via Syrian territory,” senior official Nasri Khouri told reporters, after the delegation, led by Lebanese interim deputy prime minister Zeina Akar, met Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad and Oil Minister Bassam Tomeh.
“The parties agreed to set up a joint team to track technical details” of the plan, added Khouri, who is secretary-general of the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council.
Meanwhile, Lebanon is expecting a shipment of fuel from Iran, which local media said is to be delivered at a major Syrian port and transported by land. The leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah terror group has arranged with allies in Tehran to ship the fuel to Lebanon to help ease the small country’s fuel shortages.
The delivery would violate US sanctions on Iran imposed by former US president Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in 2018.
There is no date yet for the fuel arrival but the shipment to Lebanon is seen as a test of US sanctions and many in Lebanon fear it could trigger penalties.
Lebanon has maintained diplomatic ties with Syria but it adopted a policy of dissociation from the conflict since it started in 2011, which put a dampener on official dealings.
Lebanese security officials and politicians have made several visits to Syria in recent years, but almost exclusively in a personal capacity or on behalf of political parties that support President Bashar Assad’s government.
Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terror group, had sent fighters into Syria to support Assad’s troops in their war against opponents. But other parties in Lebanon supported the opposition, leaving Lebanese politics deeply divided on how to deal with the Syrian government. Relations have been kept mostly to tackling security issues.
Syrian state media have touted it as a visit that “breaks the ice and [revives] relations” between the two countries.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad received the delegation at a border crossing on Saturday before they drove to Damascus together.
Lebanon’s economic crisis has been described by the World Bank as one of the most severe the world has witnessed since the 1850s. Its currency has crashed as the central bank’s foreign reserves dried up, leading to crippling shortages of medicine and fuel.