Beirut – The Arab League’s widely expected decision to apply sanctions on Syria may also hurt Lebanon’s economy, despite the country’s best efforts to remain neutral, Lebanese experts and officials said Sunday.
‘Lebanon, which is already reeling under a severe economic slowdown, has much to lose, even if the government has abstained from voting on the set of sanctions, along with Iraq and Jordan,’ Louis Hobeika, an economist, told dpa.
The 22-member Arab League, which had suspended Syria’s membership earlier this month, has been discussing the sanctions after Damascus ignored a deadline to end a violent crackdown on opposition. A formal decision was expected later on Sunday.
‘If the sanctions are adopted in Cairo’s meeting today by Arab foreign ministers, it will be very unfortunate because the damage will be on all sides,’ a source close to Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told dpa.
Lebanon, whose government is dominated by Syria’s ally Hezbollah, has already made clear it will not vote on any economic sanctions against its larger neighbor.
The country is worried that Syria may retaliate by not allowing the passage of its agricultural and industrial exports to Gulf countries and Turkey.
‘If this happens Lebanon would have to find an alternative route for exporting its goods to the Gulf region, and Turkey, by using flights and this would increase significantly transport costs and severely harm the overall competitiveness,’ Hobeika told dpa.
Lebanon shares a 220 kilometre border with Syria.
The European Union and the United States have already agreed on their own set of sanctions on Syria.
Hobeika argued that additional sanctions would affect Lebanon’s banks in particular.
‘These banks have over 6 billion dollars in deposits. Sanctions and the resulting economic downturn would mean these banks will bear significant losses,’ he said.
The Arab League is considering halting all dealings with Syria’s central bank and suspending trade links.