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French Version

Lebanese breathe sighs of relief as airport, highways reopen

Beirut's airport resumed activity Thursday after commercial airlines including Lebanon's national carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA), had stopped flights in and out of the capital in response to the opposition's blockage of access roads leading to the country's only international airport.

Efforts to clear roads leading to the airport using bulldozers began at approximately 6:35 p.m. as the Arab League ministerial committee for Lebanon announced a six-point settlement among feuding parties.

The 7:00 p.m. arrival of an MEA aircraft from Larnaca, Cyprus, was the first commercial flight to arrive in Beirut since the onset of clashes between opposition and government supporters last week. MEA released a statement Thursday saying service from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Amman, Cairo, and Larnaca will be resumed.

In an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, MEA chairman Mohammad Hout said the week-long shutdown caused more than financial damage, adding that "there was a material and motivational setback that we, with the help of all Lebanese, hope to recover from soon."

"In any case," Hout added, "since roads are being cleared, it appears that citizens traveling to and from the airport will not be inconvenienced."

Hout told The Daily Star in a telephone interview that "resumption of normal activity should begin at [Rafik Hariri International Airport] at midnight [Thursday]."

The reopening of the main highway leading to the airport comes as part of a broader opposition pledge, in adherence with the outlined agreement, to move toward the status quo that existed on the ground before the eruption of violence last Wednesday.

Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, had announced earlier in the day that "the Cabinet's reversal of the two decisions is a natural step to return things to the way they were before [the fighting]."

In addition to Lebanon's gateway to the skies, the Port of Beirut, which had also been shut down as a result of the fighting this past week, will resume normal functioning as of Friday morning.

Although most land routes in and around the capital were opened by the opposition in the wake of the much-publicized Arab League settlement, several key roads leading to the center of Beirut remained blocked as of late Thursday evening.

In the Bekaa Valley, a Daily Star correspondent reported Thursday that the removal of pro-government roadblocks set up at the Masnaa border crossing, the main passage between Lebanon and Syria, got under way soon after the opposition's move to open airport access roads had been confirmed.

With several Leabnese leaders heading to Qatar on Friday in an attempt to hammer out a resolution to the prolonged political stalemate, vital trade and transportation routes throughout the country apparently are expected to be reopened.

Beirut 16-05-2008
The Daily Star

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