Thursday, June 1, 2023

Sources say Saudi Arabia plans to invite Syria to Arab leaders summit

Saudi Arabia is planning to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to an Arab League summit that Riyadh is hosting in May, three sources familiar with the plans have revealed.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan will travel to Damascus in coming weeks to hand Assad a formal invitation to attend the summit scheduled for May 19, two of the sources said.

Gamal Roshdy, spokesperson for the Arab League secretary general, stayed the organisation is not privy to every move on the bilateral level between Arab countries.

“We are not supposed to be informed in advance about the assumed visit,” he added.

Since 2011, Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy, leading to the emergence of Daesh and other terrorist groups in the Arab country.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011, citing an alleged crackdown by Damascus on opposition protests. Syria has denounced the move as “illegal and a violation of the organization’s charter.”

Assad’s attendance at an Arab League summit would mark the most significant development in his rehabilitation within the Arab world since 2011.

Syria’s return to the 22-member body would be mostly symbolic but it reflects a change in the regional approach towards the Syrian war.

Last month sources told Reuters Riyadh and Damascus had reached an agreement to reopen their embassies after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

One of the three sources said discussions have been ongoing for more than a year over a list of demands from Saudi Arabia for the Syrian government to meet as a condition to mend ties, including close cooperation on border security and drug trafficking.

Initial discussions for a visit by Prince Faisal to Damascus or by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad to Riyadh were postponed because of the earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria in February, one of the sources added.

Arab League heavyweight Egypt has also resumed contacts with Assad. Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on Saturday during the first official visit by a Syrian foreign minister to Cairo in over a decade.

An Egyptian security source told Reuters the visit was aimed at putting in place steps for Syria’s return to the Arab League through Egyptian and Saudi mediation.

Some countries, including the United States and Qatar, have opposed the normalisation of ties with Assad, citing his government’s “brutality” during the conflict and the need to see progress towards a political solution in Syria.

Contacts between Saudi and Syrian officials gathered momentum following a landmark agreement in March between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Assad’s main backer, to re-establish ties.

The rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran is part of major regional realignment, amid rising tensions between Iran and Israel.

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