Syria 'ready' to help Lebanon with gas, electricity transit

Lebanon has prolonged power cuts that now last as long as 22 hours per day. PHOTO: REUTERS

DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syria has agreed to help crisis-hit Lebanon by allowing gas and electricity transit through its territory, a senior Lebanese official said Saturday (Sept 4) during the first high-level visit from Beirut to Damascus since Syria's civil war broke out 10 years ago.

Harsh fuel shortages and power cuts inflicted by Lebanon's economic collapse have paralysed businesses like 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 US sanctions against the Damascus regime.

Syria is "ready" to help Lebanon with "transit for Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity via Syrian territory," senior Lebanese official Nasri Khouri told reporters after the delegation led by 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, Khouri added.

Work will be needed to get Syria's war-ravaged infrastructure up to the task of moving the energy.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's presidency has previously spoken of US-led talks with the World Bank to finance its imports.

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 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. The 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.

That announcement followed Hezbollah's statement that Iran would begin sending fuel to Lebanon, with shipping website Tanker Trackers saying Friday that the first two ships had set off.

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.

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