Syria’s Assad arrives in Saudi Arabia in first visit since war
President Bashar al-Assad to attend the Arab League summit on Friday, a sign of his regional rehabilitation.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has arrived in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, according to Al-Arabiya TV and Syrian state television.
Al-Assad will attend the Arab League summit on Friday after Syria was reinstated to the regional organisation this month, more than 11 years after its suspension.
Al-Assad and his government were shunned beginning in 2011 for the brutal crackdown on opposition protesters and the subsequent devastating war in Syria.
But the president’s arrival in regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia on Thursday is the latest example of an attempt by the majority of Arab states to now restore ties.
The host country was formerly a key backer of armed opposition groups that sought to overthrow al-Assad during Syria’s war.
However, in recent months, Riyadh has called for dialogue to end the conflict, which has killed half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population.
Al-Assad’s troops have taken control of much of Syria, thanks to his main allies Russia and Iran, which helped tip the balance of power in his favour.
Relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia had been turbulent since al-Assad took office in 2000 after the death of his father and former president, Hafez al-Assad. The two countries cut relations in 2012. Last week, they agreed to reopen their embassies.
The steps leading to Syria’s reintegration into the Arab fold go back to at least 2018 when the United Arab Emirates re-established ties with Damascus.
The process picked up speed after deadly earthquakes struck northern Syria and southern Turkey in February, prompting an influx of aid from the region.
After the quakes, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said a consensus was building in the Arab world that a new approach to Syria requiring negotiations with Damascus would be needed to address humanitarian crises.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pushing for peace in the region, and over the past months, Riyadh has improved its relations with Iran, restored ties with Syria and has moved closer to ending the kingdom’s years-long involvement in the war in Yemen. Iran, a main backer of the Syrian government, signed an agreement in China in March to resume relations with Saudi Arabia.
The renewed Saudi-Iran ties are expected to have positive effects on Middle East countries where the two support rival groups.