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Lebanon opens first embassy in Syria

Lebanon's first embassy in Syria opened today, nearly 60 years after both countries gained independence from France.

The embassy opening  follows an agreement by the two countries last August to establish full dipomatic relations after years of turbulence.  The Syrian embassy in Beirut opened in December.

Relations have been strained between the two countries since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.  Many in Lebanon blame Syria for the assassination.  Syria denies involvement.

After the assassination, popular protests and international pressure forced the Syrian Army to withdrawal its 30,000 troops after a near 30 year presence in its much smaller neighbor.

Even at the embassy's opening ceremony, there were problems.  The Syrian foreign ministry says their minister didn't attend because they thought the opening was yesterday

"It was not intentional," Syrian Foreign minister Walid al-Muallem said Monday at a press conference. 

I'm sure the poisoning of the Syrian soccer team when they played their first match on Lebanese soil in three years was not intentional, either.

Over the past two years, the Lebanese government had been divided between Syrian backed parties, led by Hezbollah, and anti-Syrian parties, backed by the U.S.  The division led to a year and a half of political stalemate, and eventually, violence, which saw the Hezbollah led opposition triumph in street clashes last May.

A Qatari brokered peace deal ended the fighting.  Lebanese  President Michele Suleiman was soon elected by  a reconvened parliament to help form a government to include the two opposing sides.

The initial agreement to establish embassies was sealed in August when Suleiman made the first visit to Syria by a Lebanese president in three years.  He was given a red carpet welcome by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.  In October, Assad issued a presidential decree ordering the establishment of diplomatic relations with Lebanon.

The decree signaled a reversal of the Syrian government's longstanding insistence that Lebanon and Syria had a "special" relationship.  Many in Syria, and some Lebanese, still see Lebanon as a natural part of Syria that was artifically lopped off by the French.

Since the two countries agreed to establish embassies, Syria has emerged from international isolation over charges it was involved in the Hariri assassination.

Michel al-Khoury will be the country's first ambassador to Syria.  He is currently stationed in Cyprus.