A delegation of senior Arab parliamentarians has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in another sign of thawing ties after more than a decade of isolation over the conflict in Syria.
The heads of the Iraqi, Jordanian, Palestinian, Libyan, Egyptian and Emirati houses of representatives, as well as representatives from Oman and Lebanon, travelled to Syria as part of a delegation from the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union.
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They met with Syrian parliamentarians and with al-Assad, Syrian state news agency SANA reported on Sunday.
“We cannot do without Syria and Syria cannot do without its Arab environment, which we hope it can return to,” said Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi.
Syria was largely isolated from the rest of the Arab world following al-Assad’s deadly crackdown against protests that erupted against his rule in 2011.
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in 2011, and many Arab countries pulled their envoys out of Damascus.
But al-Assad has benefitted from an outpouring of support from Arab states following two devastating earthquakes on February 6, which killed more than 5,900 people across his country, according to a tally of United Nations and Syrian government figures.
Donors have included Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which both supported rebels seeking to overthrow al-Assad in the early years of the Syrian conflict.
The visit comes as the Egyptian foreign ministry said that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will travel to Damascus on Monday in the first visit by an Egyptian foreign minister since Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011.
Shoukry will visit Syria and Turkey, where tens of thousands were killed by the quakes, to “convey a message of solidarity from Egypt with the two countries”, according to the foreign ministry statement.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi spoke with al-Assad by phone for the first time on February 7 and Jordan’s foreign minister made his first trip to Damascus on February 15.
Al-Assad then travelled to Oman on February 20 — the first time he has left Syria since the quake.
He had rarely left Syria during the war, travelling only to close allies Russia and Iran, whose military support helped him turn the tide of the conflict.
Al-Assad’s 2022 visit to the UAE was his first trip to an Arab state since the 2011 outbreak of war.