Bahrain says work in Syria embassy 'continuing' after UAE move

Bahrain says it wants to 'strengthen the Arab role' in Syria in order to combat 'regional interference' in its affairs.

    Bahrain's announcement came shortly after the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus [File: Marko Djurica/Reuters]
    Bahrain's announcement came shortly after the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus [File: Marko Djurica/Reuters]

    Bahrain has announced that "work is continuing" at its embassy in Syria, day after the UAE reopened its own diplomatic mission in the country.

    The Bahraini embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, was closed following the start of a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, which escalated into a brutal and multifaceted war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and destroyed the country's infrastructure.

    The Bahraini Foreign Ministry made the announcement in a statement on its website on Friday, saying it was "anxious to continue relations" with Syria and wants to "strengthen the Arab role and reactivate it in order to preserve the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and prevent the risk of regional interference in its affairs". 

    Syria's embassy in the Bahraini capital, Manama, is also operational and flights between the two countries are set to resume, according to the ministry statement. 

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    In October, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa was seen warmly greeting his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

    Khalifa later defended the meeting in an interview, saying it was unplanned and calling Syria a "brotherly, Arab nation". 

    "What happens there concerns us more than anywhere else in the world. It is not right that regional and international players are involved in Syria while we are absent," Khalifa said.

    Strengthening the Arab role

    The embassy reopenings are the latest signs of a thaw in relations between Syria and other Arab countries [Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]

    Bahrain's decision came just hours after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reopened its embassy in central Damascus on Thursday.

    Both Gulf countries were among several regional powers that initially backed opposition fighters in Syria, though their roles were reportedly less prominent than those of Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey.

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    The moves are the latest indicators that some Arab countries are preparing to welcome Syria back into the fold after years of diplomatic isolation, which have seen the country expelled from the 22-member Arab League, and slapped with sanctions and condemnations of its use of military force against the opposition. 

    Trade between Jordan and Syria has resumed in recent weeks after the reopening of a border crossing in October and the first commercial flight from Syria to Tunisia in seven years took off on Thursday. 

    Earlier in December, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab head of state to visit Syria since the war began. 

    The warming relations come as regional and international powers jostle for position in Syria, following a year of advances by government forces, which has seen the defeat of the last sizeable rebel enclaves near Damascus.

    "An Arab role in Syria has become even more necessary to face the regional expansionism of Iran and Turkey," UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter on Thursday. 

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    Tehran has been a staunch supporter of Assad's government and has expanded its military footprint in Syria throughout the course of the conflict. Along with Russia, which also supports Assad, and Turkey, which does not, Iran has played a central role in peace negotiations on Syria.

    Meanwhile, in December, United States President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria, clearing the path for Turkey to launch planned combat operations into northeastern Syria against an alliance of Kurdish and Arab groups that it views as an extension of an armed group fighting inside Turkey. 

    Trump also claimed that Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional nemesis, had agreed to finance Syria's enormous reconstruction needs. 

    "Saudi Arabia has now agreed to spend the necessary money needed to help rebuild Syria, instead of the United States," Trump said on Twitter.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies