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Lebanon's Hariri In Syria For Landmark Talks


Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri
DAMASCUS (Reuters) -- Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri arrived in Damascus today for landmark talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that were set to mark a fresh chapter in the turbulent ties between both countries.

The visit is the new prime minister's first to Syria and looks set to close the chapter on nearly five years of animosity between Damascus and a broad political alliance led by Hariri.

Lebanese political sources expect the two leaders to agree on opening a new page in their personal relationship and on strengthening cooperation between their governments to guarantee Lebanon's stability.

Witnesses said Hariri's plane landed at Damascus airport. He was expected to be driven immediately to the presidential palace for a meeting with Assad.

Hariri's "March 14" alliance accused Syria of assassinating his father, statesman Rafik al-Hariri, in February 2005. They also blamed Damascus for attacking and killing other politicians and journalists.

Syria denies the allegations. A special court based in The Hague has yet to indict anyone for the Hariri killing.

Outrage in Lebanon over the assassination and international pressure forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, ending three decades of military presence in its smaller neighbor.

Saad al-Hariri's coalition has often clashed in the past with Syria's allies in Lebanon, led by the powerful Iranian-backed group Hizballah, and the political crisis has threatened to plunge Lebanon into a new civil war.

Rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia, which backs Hariri, earlier this year eased tension and allowed Hariri, who won a parliamentary election in June, to form a unity government that includes Hizballah and other Damascus allies.