Lebanon delegation in first official Syria visit in 10 years
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Lebanese officials are set to visit Damascus Saturday to discuss plans to import gas through wartorn Syria's territory in what would mark the first official diplomatic visit during the 10-year-old conflict.
The delegation includes Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar, General Security agency chief Abbas Ibrahim and Zeina Akar, who holds the posts of defence minister, foreign minister and deputy premier, Syria's information ministry said in an invite sent to journalists.
They will be greeted at the Syrian side of the border at 10:30am (0730 GMT) by Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad, the information ministry added.
A source at Lebanon's energy ministry said the two sides will discuss plans to import natural gas via Jordan and Syria to ease Lebanon's energy crisis.
The aim is to revive a 2009 agreement that allowed Lebanon to import gas from Egypt through Syria, the source said.
Lebanon has maintained diplomatic ties with Syria but it adopted a so-called 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 al-Assad's government.
They include representatives of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement which has been battling alongside Assad's forces in Syria since the early stages of the war.
Last November, a small Lebanese delegation participated in a Russian-sponsored conference in Damascus that discussed the return of Syrian refugees.
The upcoming visit comes after the Lebanese presidency last month said that Washington has agreed to help Lebanon secure electricity and natural gas from Jordan and Egypt through Syrian territory.
This implies that the US is willing to waive Western sanctions which prohibit any official transactions with the Syrian government and which have hampered previous attempts by Lebanon to source gas from Egypt.
Lebanon, a country of more than six million people, is grappling with an economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet's worst in modern times.
The central bank is struggling to afford basic imports, including fuel, which has caused shortages and prolonged power cuts that now last as long as 22 hours per day.