DAMASCUS, Syria - Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, two years after calling Assad "a snake, a butcher, a liar…and a criminal."
The leaders' first meeting in six years came a few weeks after Jumblatt publicly apologized for his former remarks about Assad, calling them "improper."
Jumblatt's reconciliation with the Syrian president follows similar moves over the past couple of years by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri, whose father, Rafik, was assassinated in 2005.
According to some analysts, Jumblatt is paving the way for his son, Taymour, to take his place as leader of the Lebanese Druze.
In April 2005, following Hariri's assassination, Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon, after three decades of dominating the Lebanese political scene. In the aftermath of Hariri's death, Jumblatt accused Syria of being behind his father's assassination in 1977.
In May 2008, the Lebanese parliament appointed Michel Suleiman as president, following an 18-month hiatus with no head of state.
In the two years since assuming the presidency, Suleiman has sought to reconcile pro- and anti-Syrian camps in Lebanon. His efforts began by bringing the Iranian-funded Hezbollah terror group into his unity government and granting it parliamentary veto power over major government decisions.
Shortly after Suleiman became president, he too traveled to Damascus to reconcile with the Syrian president.
Assad, who maintains a close relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a staunch supporter of Hezbollah. Iranian missiles and other weaponry has reached Hezbollah via Syria's border with Lebanon for years.
Following the Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, Iran rearmed its Lebanese proxy, with a missile cache now estimated at 40,000.
Neighboring Turkey has also allowed Iranian weapons shipments to traverse its country en route to the Lebanese-based terror group.
Hariri, who also made "peace" with Assad despite allegations that Syrian intelligence was behind his father's assassination, will meet with U.S. Senator John Kerry this week before the senator travels to Damascus to try to restart peace negotiations with Israel.
Syria has repeatedly called for Israel to cede the Golan Heights, captured during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed to Israel. Assad has made "returning" the Golan to Syria a precondition for restarting peace talks with Israel.
Prior to 1967, Syrian security forces used the Golan to fire on Israeli farmers in the Hula Valley below. Because of Syrian sniper fire, the children slept in bomb shelters.
Over the years, Israel developed the Golan Heights, annexing it to the country in mid-December 1981. The Golan has been part of Israel longer than it was part of Syria. Under Syrian occupation, the Golan was left a wilderness, with no infrastructure, schools, farms, businesses, all of which it now has.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has promised that the Golan will remain a permanent part of the Jewish state.
Meanwhile, despite being a state sponsor of terrorism, especially against Israel, the Obama administration reopened diplomatic relations with Syria earlier this year.
Obama's backing, along with restored diplomatic ties with Lebanese leaders, has boosted Assad's position in the region and shored up Hezbollah as a legitimate player.
In an interview aired on al-Manar television on Wednesday, Hezbollah general secretary and spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah praised Jumblatt's recent change of heart and urged Hamas and Fatah - rival Palestinian factions - to unite "under the umbrella of resistance" against the Jewish state.
"There is no future for Israel in our region," Nasrallah said. "There is only one option available to us. I urge you to embrace the option of resistance [a euphemism for terrorism]," he said.
Nasrallah said he hoped the construction taking place in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would soon house its "original inhabitants."