- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (AP) - Lebanon on Monday opened an embassy in Syria, sealing the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the long-feuding rivals for the first time since they gained independence from France in the 1940s.

Relations between the neighboring countries reached a turning point in August when they agreed to establish ties and demarcate their contentious border. The agreement marked a final break in Syria’s longtime dominance over its smaller neighbor.

Syria opened an embassy in Beirut in December.

Full diplomatic relations between the two countries has been a pressing demand from Lebanon’s anti-Syrian factions, the United States and other Western nations.

Lebanon has named career diplomat Michel Khoury, currently Lebanon’s ambassador to Cyprus, as its ambassador in Damascus. Khoury is expected to take office next month.

The new Lebanese Embassy, situated next to the U.S. mission, was opened with little fanfare. Lebanese Charge d’Affaires Rami Mourtadaha watched as the Lebanese flag was raised over the building.

A sign reading “The Embassy of the Lebanese Republic” was posted at the entrance.

No Syrian officials were seen at the opening ceremony and Syria has yet to name its ambassador to Lebanon.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his country will name an ambassador to Lebanon soon, but gave no specific date.

“We raised our flag (at our embassy) in Lebanon some time ago. We hope to appoint a Syrian ambassador to Lebanon soon,” al-Moallem told reporters at a joint press conference in Damascus with Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

Moussa praised the “new push” in Syrian-Lebanese relations, saying establishing full diplomatic ties is the best way to improve the countries’ bilateral relations.

Syria has dominated its smaller neighbor since the 1970s, when it sent its army into Lebanon, then engulfed in civil war.

Syria’s hold unraveled in 2005, after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a car bombing that many Lebanese blame on Syria _ a charge Damascus denies.

After Hariri’s assassination, Syria caved to U.S.-led international pressure and Lebanese outrage and withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005.

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