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Lebanon PM Hariri meets Syrian leader Assad

Saad Hariri (L) and Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, 20 December
The leaders held two days of talks in Damascus

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has met President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria, amid efforts to ease tensions between the two neighbours.

Mr Hariri said the talks were friendly, open and positive.

It was his first official visit there since his anti-Syrian coalition first came to power in 2005.

Mr Hariri's father, former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in 2005. The attack was widely blamed on Syria, but Damascus denied any involvement.

Syria was forced later that year to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after 29 years.

Troubled past

At a press conference at the newly-opened Lebanese embassy in Damascus, Mr Hariri said the talks covered all areas of interest to the two countries.

Mr Hariri, who has previously blamed Syria for killing his father, Rafik Hariri, said both countries were learning from the past and trying to build for the future.

Asked about the international tribunal established to investigate the killing, Mr Hariri said both leaders agreed that the issue was now in the hands of the international community, and that all concerned wanted the truth.

He said Lebanon wanted relations with Syria built not on a personal basis, but on principles that would provide mutual benefits.

His words were in line with a Syrian statement saying the talks had "succeeded in overcoming difficulties" and stressing the need for cooperation to face regional challenges such as the Arab world's relationship with Israel.

After elections in June, Mr Hariri formed a national unity government in Lebanon in which allies of Syria are strongly represented.

The BBC's Lina Sinjab in Damascus says this visit has opened a new chapter in the relations between the two countries, but there are worries in Lebanon that it will renew Syria's influence in the country's politics.



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