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Saudi Arabia to invite Syria's Assad to Arab League summit: Report

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan is expected to travel to Damascus to personally deliver invitation to Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow, on 15 March 2023 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia plans to invite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to an Arab League summit in Riyadh in May, a move that could cement Assad’s return to the Arab fold after a decade of isolation.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan is expected to travel to Damascus in the coming weeks to personally deliver a formal invitation to Assad, according to Reuters, which first reported the news.

The Arab League summit is scheduled for 19 May. The Syrian leader’s visit would coincide with Saudi Arabia and Syria's plans to reopen their embassies after the holy month of Ramadan at the end of April, Reuters reported earlier.

The uptick in talks between Saudi Arabia and Syria follows Riyadh’s move in March to re-establish ties with Iran, one of Damascus’ main backers.

A Syrian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye that the normalisation deal was “another obstacle out of the way of more re-engagement” with Riyadh.

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Maher al-Assad, the Syrian president’s brother and head of the feared Fourth Armoured Division, reportedly visited Saudi Arabia last month and received the kingdom’s conditions for normalisation.

Diplomatic efforts have also picked up in the wake of the two massive earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in February. Saudi Arabia sent aid to government-controlled Aleppo in the first such flight in 11 years. 

Reviving ties with Saudi Arabia would be a major breakthrough for Assad, who has been on a diplomatic blitz of the region. He visited Oman in February for the first time since his country’s civil war erupted. The following month he travelled to the UAE, accompanied by his wife Asma.

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The kingdom has suggested that Syria’s reentry to the Arab League could be an end goal of closer engagement. Prince Faisal previously called the status quo in war-ravaged Syria “untenable”.

The Arab League has lost much of the clout it once commanded in the Middle East, but membership still carries symbolic weight.

Egypt, the historic leader of the group, is working with Saudi Arabia to facilitate Damascus’ return, according to Reuters.

On Saturday, Syria's foreign minister met his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo for the first such visit in more than a decade. 

Assad is still viewed as a pariah in much of the West for overseeing a violent crackdown on opponents in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring.  

The US remains opposed to normalisation. Regional powers like Qatar have also ruled out normalising ties with Assad without changes in his government's behaviour.

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