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Germany

Berlin Signs Repatriation Deal With Syria

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble signed a repatriation agreement with his Syrian counterpart Bassam Abdelmajid in Berlin Monday, July 14. The deal followed talks between Chancellor Merkel and President Assad.

Syrian president Bashar El Assad

Syria's President Assad had discussions with Chancelor Merkel in Paris about arms smuggling

The agreement provided a basis for sending back not only Syrian nationals required to leave Germany, but also nationals of other countries and stateless persons who had the right to be in Syria, Schaeuble said.

The new agreement was in line with modern European practice and would make a significant contribution to combating illegal migration from the Middle East, he said.

A spokeswoman for the German Interior Ministry said that some 7,000 of the 28,350 Syrian nationals currently in Germany were obliged to leave the country.

Abdelmajid's visit to Berlin was unexpectedly announced last week. The Syrian minister did not speak to the press and had no public engagements.

In another unexpected development marking a thaw in relations between the two countries that have long been strained, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Paris at the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean on Sunday.

Assad comes out of the cold

Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, waits for the start of a Mediterranean Summit round table meeting at the Grand Palais in Paris, Sunday July 13, 2008.

Assad's attendance at the Club Med talks was historic

At the meeting of 43 heads of state and government from the European Union and countries of the Mediterranean littoral, Assad agreed to establish formal diplomatic links with Lebanon for the first time.

Assad ended his international isolation by attending the summit, which included indirect talks through Turkey between him and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Germany has long demanded that Syria should recognize Lebanon's sovereignty and integrity and should cease interfering in domestic Lebanese politics.

Merkel's spokesman, Thomas Steg, said Monday the chancellor hoped that "deeds would soon follow words" and that formal ties between the two Middle Eastern neighbors would soon be established.

"We want to see actions now because enough words have been exchanged," Merkel reportedly told the press after her talks with Assad in Paris.

Merkel calls for more action on arms smuggling

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with the media after a Mediterranean Summit meeting at the Grand Palais in Paris, Sunday July 13, 2008.

Merkel spoke to Assad about the Hizbollah situation

Steg said Merkel had also called for an end to weapons smuggling across the border to the Syrian-backed Hezbollah movement.

Steg said Berlin and the international community were now waiting for Syria to follow through on its pledge and to address other problems that had led to its pariah status.

"If Syria aims to show its good will with this announcement then it could also follow up with good deeds and that would include, for example, a readiness to ensure that the alleged -- at least never ruled-out -- weapons smuggling over the land route to the Hezbollah militias is stopped," Steg said. "That would also contribute to the security of Lebanon."

Arms smuggling between Lebanon and Syria's 170-kilometer (105-mile) long border is believed to be rampant.

Israel accuses Syria outright of supplying weapons to the militant Shiite group Hezbollah.

Diplomatic relations re-established

Syria and Lebanon announced Saturday their decision to establish diplomatic relations, a first since their independence from colonial rule.

Steg said Syria's declarations were grounds for hope that it was ready to end its "in part self-imposed isolation".

"Now the Syrians must prove that they truly intend to play a responsible role to bring about peace and security in the Middle East and that they want to work together constructively," he said.

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