Lebanon to reopen key Syria border crossing

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Construction is under way at the Jussiye crossing on Lebanon's border with Syria, which is set to reopen soon. [Photo courtesy of al-Qaa municipality]

Construction is under way at the Jussiye crossing on Lebanon's border with Syria, which is set to reopen soon. [Photo courtesy of al-Qaa municipality]

Five years after the closure of the Jussiye crossing on the Lebanese-Syrian border, Lebanon's General Directorate of General Security (GDGS) and Customs Administration are preparing to reopen it.

The border crossing lies in the outskirts of al-Qaa, where operation Fajr al-Juroud (Al-Juroud Dawn) recently succeeded in ousting the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

Residents told Al-Mashareq they hope the crossing’s reopening will put an end to illegal smuggling, allow Syrians to enter Lebanon legally and revitalise the area's economy.

Al-Qaa mayor Bashir Matar told Al-Mashareq the Jussiye crossing, known as al-Qaa crossing on the Lebanese side, will be reopened "within a period not exceeding two months".

The pace of work is accelerating so that all infrastructure will be ready for the return of the GDGS and the Customs Administration, he said, adding that these agencies will take control of the Lebanese side of the crossing.

The GDGS is completing the remaining construction tasks at the post, which has been moved about 12 kilometres from its previous location on the outskirts of the town of al-Qaa to beyond the Masharei al-Qaa area, he said.

This places the crossing fully within the state’s area of control and ends unfettered movement there, he said.

"The decision to move the post is a sovereign step that will curb smuggling to a great extent," he said. "All that is left is for the state to take a decision to close all remaining illegal crossings in order to control smuggling and the illegal entry of Syrians."

The reopening of the crossing will create jobs for al-Qaa residents and will improve relations with Syrians, he said, as it will facilitate the travel of refugees who wish to return home and the entry of those who want to come to Lebanon.

Syrians will be able to enter Lebanon legally, through the crossing, rather than stealthily, in exchange for hundreds of dollars, he said.

Plans proceeding apace

"Preparations to reopen the crossing are proceeding quickly," Matar said. "The municipality bears part of the cost and is carrying out a portion of the work."

The Ministry of Public Works has paved 600 square metres of road, and the municipality has undertaken the task of laying the concrete foundation in order for the GDGS to install prefabricated rooms at the crossing, he said.

The municipality also handles the trucks that transport sand and gravel to the site, he added.

Matar said he hopes that with the reopening of the official crossing, al-Qaa "will turn a new page, in which security will be under control", recalling the deadly June 2016 attack by eight ISIS suicide bombers.

"The crossing’s reopening is of sovereign importance as it puts the state back in control of the border at al-Qaa," he said, adding that it also provides an economic outlet.

"We hope it approaches al-Masnaa crossing in terms of attracting transit traffic and that it puts an end to smuggling of all kinds," he said.

Return of state control

The reopening of the Jussiye crossing will pave the way for the elimination of illegal crossings with Syria in the Bekaa Valley, said security strategy specialist and retired military officer Brig. Gen. Naji Malaeb.

The reopening will "to a great extent curb the organised and illegal smuggling of goods", and will end the illegal entry of Syrians into Lebanon, he added.

The return of the GDGS to the border post is of great importance at several levels, said journalist Tony Wehbeh, who owns agricultural land in the area.

It will help impose security and stability, he said, and revive economic activity, particularly in the agricultural sector, "which is the main source of livelihood for a large number of us".

Al-Qaa is about 40 kilometres away from the Syrian city of Homs, and there traditionally has been trade activity between the two areas.

"For decades, the crossing has been a conduit for the export of our agricultural production of vegetables and fruit, particularly apricots, to Syria and from there to the Gulf markets," he said.

"The crossing’s closure for security reasons prevented the export of our products and products of other Bekaa farmers," Wehbeh said, adding that he, like other farmers, looks forward to the return of "legal and organised agricultural trade".

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