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New Lebanese Prime Minister Visits Syria to Improve Relations


Lebanon's new prime minister is visiting Damascus for talks with Syrian leaders aimed a improving relations. Just a day earlier, the first government formed since Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon won a vote of confidence in Parliament.

Relations between Lebanon and Syria have been strained since Damascus bowed to international pressure, and ended its 29-year presence in Lebanon in April. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's first official trip to Syria is a push to improve political, economic, and social stability in Lebanon.

Syria has implemented a tight border crackdown. Hundreds of transport trucks line the road to Syria waiting for clearance to cross the border. The reported lock down has been in place for more than a month, taking a toll on Lebanese exports. Many of the trucks carrying produce have lost thousands of dollars in revenues as the items have spoiled from the heat.

Many Lebanese claim the border crackdown is an attempt to strangle Lebanon's economy. Syria says it is in response to international pressure to stop insurgents and militants from crossing into the country.

Prime Minister Siniora's government won 92 votes of confidence in the 128-member parliament, where an anti-Syrian coalition won a majority in June elections.

Fourteen members of parliament, mainly from the bloc led by anti-Syrian Christian leader General Michel Aoun, voted against the new government.

General Aoun says the issues concerning Damascus are serious, but there are other issues within Lebanon, such as the disarmament of the militant group, Hezbollah, which should take priority. The U.N. resolution that demanded Syria withdraw from Lebanon also demands the Hezbollah guerrillas disarm.

Mr. Aoun says the disarming of militias, including Hezbollah, was laid out in the so-called Taif accord that ended fighting in Lebanon's civil war.

"But Hezbollah is saying it is not a militia, it is a resistance," he said. "And our position is that, when this agreement was made you were not classified as a resistance, you were classified as a militia."

Hezbollah, which the U.S. government still considers a terrorist organization, won 14 seats in parliament and has a cabinet seat in the new government.

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