Syrian plane lands in Baghdad for first time in 20 years
A Syrian plane flew into the Iraqi capital on Sunday for the first time in 20 years, as part of a campaign of solidarity flights against a decade-old UN air embargo, the official news agency INA reported.
A 34-member delegation led by Mohammed Mufdi Saifo, the Syrian minister of state for cabinet affairs, touched down at Saddam International Airport carrying food, medicine and team of doctors.
The flight "shows the total support of the Syrian people for the Iraqi people to ease their sufferings caused by the embargo," said Saifo.
Iraqi Commerce Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, at the head of a welcoming party, said it was "another positive step (in the rapprochement) between the two countries ... and for the strengthening of bilateral relations".
The delegation was due to return to Damascus later Sunday on the Syrian Airlines Airbus.
The initiative followed a call by President Bashar al-Assad on October 2 for Arab countries to work for a lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq, imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Despite a break in diplomatic relations in 1980 over Syria's backing for Iran in its war with Iraq, Damascus and Baghdad have been slowly normalizing ties since 1997, focusing on trade.
Six other Arab countries -- Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen -- have sent planes into Iraq since September 27 and Lebanon plans to follow suit, following flights from Russia and France.
Paris and Moscow say the air embargo on Iraq as part of the sanctions regime does not cover private non-commercial flights, while Washington and London insist all flights must be approved by the UN sanctions committee.
Also challenging the air embargo, two Turkish planes were expected in Baghdad on Monday, information ministry sources in Baghdad said.
A Turkish airline, Arkas Air, has said a Turkish humanitarian flight was scheduled on Monday and the chamber of commerce in the southeastern Turkish town of Gaziantep has requested permission for a flight of its own.
The Turkish foreign ministry said last week that it was also likely to give the go-ahead for a businessman to charter a flight to the Iraqi capital.
Turkey, meanwhile, has threatened not to renew a mandate for US planes using a Turkish base to patrol northern Iraq if the US Congress passes a bill declaring the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against the Armenians -- BAGHDAD (AFP)
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