Arab states snub Syria over summit

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Monday resisted mounting pressure from Hezbollah to invite a delegation from Syria to an Arab economic summit next week in Beirut.

Syrian leader Bashar Assad is also unlikely to be invited to the next Arab League summit in Tunisia in March, after a planned meeting to discuss Syria’s readmission to the body was canceled.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 and imposed political and economic sanctions over the Syrian civil war. Three months later, the Gulf Cooperation Council states withdrew their ambassadors from Damascus. 

However, as the Assad regime solidifies its military victory after seven years of war, with help from Russia and Iran, there is growing pressure to normalize relations.

In Lebanon, the campaign is being led by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. The group’s parliamentary bloc said it was “in Lebanon’s interest to invite Syria to participate in the Arab Economic
and Social Development Summit,” which begins in Beirut on Jan. 16.

Inviting Syria “would strengthen Lebanon and would be in its strategic interest, especially as current developments are creating a positive Arab atmosphere that is seeing Arab states rushing back to Damascus, and as Syria’s closest neighbor and considering the country’s interests, Lebanon should be at the forefront of efforts to reinforce and strengthen this atmosphere,” Hezbollah said.

If Syria were not invited the summit should be postponed, the group said, but Lebanon rejected both suggestions.

“Lebanon is hosting and organizing the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit but is not the one inviting states. Invitations remain the competence of the Arab League,” Rafiq Chlala, head of the summit’s media committee, told Arab News. 

“Syria had not attended the previous Arab summits upon the Arab League’s decision, but it can return to participating by a decision from the Arab League,” he said.

“Lebanon has nothing to do with this issue, and President Aoun has pledged not to postpone the economic summit and to hold it on time.”

President Michel Aoun confirmed that the summit “will be held on time,” and said Lebanon’s failure for the past eight months to form a Cabinet of ministers under Prime Minister Saad Hariri was no reason to postpone it.

“The current government is exercising its powers according to the constitution,” he said.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, have already confirmed their attendance. Other Arab leaders are expected to do so in the next few days.

Delegates will meet initially on Jan. 16 to agree on the topics for discussion and draft a communique. Foreign ministers will meet on Jan. 18, followed by delegation chiefs and national leaders on Jan. 19, before the full summit on Jan. 20.

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