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Lebanon accepts envoy from former foe Syria

  • Story Highlights
  • Lebanon approves first ambassador to Beirut from former occupier Syria
  • Syria maintained tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon from 1970s until 2005
  • Syria and Lebanon established diplomatic ties in October 2008
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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Lebanon says it has approved the first ambassador to Beirut from Syria, the country which occupied Lebanon for decades.

The families of Lebanese prisoners held in Syria protest outside the United Nations offices in Beirut last year.

The families of Lebanese prisoners held in Syria protest outside the United Nations offices in Beirut last year.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman Tuesday formally accepted Ali Abed al-Karim Ali as the new Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, his office said. He did not present his credentials in person, and it is not clear when he will take office, Sleiman's office said.

Syria and Lebanon established diplomatic ties in October 2008.

Lebanon opened its first embassy in Damascus on March 16, when Charge d'Affaires Rami Mortada raised the Lebanese flag over the building in the Damascus neighborhood of Abu Remmaneh, which is also home to the U.S. Embassy, Lebanon's official news agency said.

Michel El Khoury was named as Lebanon's ambassador to Syria earlier this year but has not filled his post yet, the president's office said.

Syria maintained tens of thousands of troops in Lebanon from the 1970s until they were forced out by massive popular protests in 2005. The protests were a response to the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a huge car bombing in February of that year.

Many Lebanese, as well as the United States, accused Syria of orchestrating the assassination of Hariri, an outspoken opponent of Syria. Damascus denies responsibility. The United Nations opened a tribunal in December 2005 to look into the killing.

The United States is also exploring improved relations with Syria. Washington sent a high-level envoy to Damascus at the beginning of March, four years after it withdrew its ambassador over the killing of Hariri.

The envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, said the United States and Syria found a lot of "common ground" on which to cooperate in the Middle East, but warned to "keep expectations in check" as Washington and Damascus re-engage after several years of strained relations.

CNN's Nada Husseini contributed to this report.

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