Lebanese ministers head to Syria after earthquake

Team being sent to Damascus to assess how Lebanon can support its stricken neighbour

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A high-level delegation of ministers from Lebanon arrived in Damascus on Wednesday to assess how Beirut can assist neighbouring Syria following the earthquake in Turkey that has killed about 10,000 people.

Thousands remain missing and many buildings in Syria and Turkey have been reduced to rubble.

The ministerial delegation was led by Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh, the latter designated by the Lebanese cabinet as the main point of contact between Lebanon and Syria over relief efforts. Among other officials, they met Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar and officials from the Lebanese Health Ministry are also part of the team.

Since the outbreak of Syria's brutal civil war in 2011, the Lebanese government has maintained a policy of disassociation from the conflict. Political leaders did not undertake official visits to Syria for years, until a senior delegation — led by the deputy prime minister at the time — arrived in Damascus in September 2021.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he decided to form the latest delegation as an expression of support for Syria.

Mr Hamieh had earlier waived taxes and fees for any Syrian-bound humanitarian aid arriving at Lebanon’s ports and airports.

Dozens of soldiers and members of the Civil Defence, which carries out search and rescue operations as well as fighting fires, have arrived in Turkey and Syria to assist relief efforts.

According to the Beirut municipality, a joint team consisting of the Lebanese Army, Civil Defence and the Lebanese Red Cross, rescued a pregnant Turkish woman and her child who had been trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building for 48 hours.

While some people in Lebanon were shaken from their sleep in the early hours of Monday, the earthquake has had minimal damage on the country so far.

At least six Lebanese citizens are believed to have died in Turkey and Syria because of the earthquake and its aftershocks. A few more remain missing.

Updated: February 08, 2023, 5:59 PM