Syrian flag flies over first embassy in Lebanon

December 28, 2008 - 0:0

BEIRUT (AFP) -– The Syrian flag flew over Damascus' first-ever embassy in Beirut on Friday, as final preparations were made for its official opening after warming ties ended years of tensions between the two neighbors.

The work took a comic turn on Friday when an impostor showed up at the building in the Hamra business district of west Beirut, briefly causing a stir by claiming to be the new ambassador.
Witnesses told AFP the flag was raised overnight as work continued to prepare the building for the opening before the end of the year.
Two brass plaques bearing the inscription ""Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic"" in Arabic and English were also put up outside the building, where the mission will operate on the first three floors.
An official date for the inauguration has not yet been announced, but the leftist As-Safir Lebanese daily on Monday quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem as saying this would happen ""immediately after Christmas.""
On Monday, three diplomats from Damascus began working at the embassy in advance of the opening. Syria has yet to name an ambassador, and the highest-ranking diplomat is currently a first secretary.
But on Friday a dignified-looking man turned up outside the building claiming to be the envoy from Damascus, witnesses said.
The suitcase-bearing man presented himself to security guards, saying: ""I am the new Syrian ambassador.""
Not daring to ask too many questions the guard let the impersonator in before he the ""ambassador"" was rumbled and escorted out of the building by two people who told him to clear off. Still looking dignified, he boarded a taxi and left.
Lebanon and Syria announced the establishment of diplomatic relations on October 15 for the first time since their independence from France more than 60 years ago, in a major step towards normalization of ties.
Relations between the two countries have often been fractious since Syria was forced to withdraw its troops in April 2005 after maintaining a near 30-year military presence in its tiny neighbor.