Lebanon reopened the Al-Qaa border crossing Friday after a closure of some five years. At a ceremony Thursday to mark the occasion at the northeastern border, General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim said security cooperation between the two countries had never ceased.
Lebanese-Syrian security coordination “did not stop during the Syrian crisis,” Ibrahim said Thursday, adding that the reopening of the checkpoint would help cut down illegitimate border crossings between Lebanon and Syria.
“We are here to cement the border of our country with toil and sacrifice, while the fate of other countries has become the hostage of terrorism that tramples on borders,” he added.
The incident also marked a rare appearance of Lebanese and Syrian officials with Syrian Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammad al-Shaar attending.
“We will support everything that serves to normalize the relationship between Lebanon and Syria,” the Syrian minister said.
He added: “Today the conditions are normal, and this is a message that relations between the two countries are normal.” He also mentioned the issue of Syrian refugees, claiming “the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Homs will be completely safe in 2018.”
Also in attendance was Governor of Homs Talal al-Barazi and Police Chief General Khaled Hilal, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar reported.
The Jousieh crossing, closed nearly a year after the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, will begin facilitating crossings through new General Security and customs posts from Friday.
The area near Al-Qaa was recaptured over the summer as part of the 10-day ‘Fajr al-Joroud’ offensive conducted against Daesh (ISIS) militants held up in the mountains. Ibrahim said the reopening was a moment of celebration as it marked the end of the “terrorism that has targeted the entire region” and that it would “contribute to the revitalization of economic activity in the area.”
Speaking after the ceremony, Abbas told reporters: “The existence of a general security center in Al-Qaa is a cornerstone of national sovereignty,” and that “without distinction or discrimination, we believe that the strength of the nation is in the effectiveness of its citizens and their role and their adherence to their civil peace.”
Ibrahim added: “Today after the forced closure of the center as a result of the terrorist acts that the whole area was subjected to, we celebrate the opening of this crossing that will be staffed and equipped and it will be the first stop for security for the area. … Al-Qaa is the last Lebanese town on the Baalbeck-Homs line.”
The Jousieh crossing, as it is known in Syria, connects Al-Qaa to Syria’s Homs and was closed over the past five years due to the presence of militants in the area, on the Syrian side of the border, Assad’s regime has since reclaimed most of the territory once held by rebels, with the help of a Russian military campaign in support of his regime, and thanks to deep divisions within the various rebel groups. Some of the groups had been have previously conducted cross-border rocket attacks targeting civilians in the village of Hermel.
Officials were also keen to insist that the opening was not a one-off. Lebanese Customs Department Director-General Badri Daher said: “We will be opening more crossings.”