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Saudi Arabia and Syria 'agree to reopen embassies'

Two countries severed ties in 2012, a year after the beginning of the Syrian civil war
Saudi Arabia humanitarian relief for earthquake victims is unloaded at Aleppo International Airport in northern Syria on 14 February 2023 (AFP)

Saudi Arabia and Syria have agreed to reopen their embassies after an 11-year freeze in diplomatic relations.

The two governments are "preparing to reopen embassies after Eid al-Fitr", a government source told Reuters, referring to the celebration marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The move comes in the wake of the re-establishment of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Syria's closest ally in the region, earlier this month.

According to a regional source and a diplomat in the Gulf who spoke to Reuters, the decision was the result of talks in Saudi Arabia with a senior Syrian intelligence official.

The move represents a major step forward in what has been a gradual process of reintegrating Syria back into the regional fold after years of isolation.

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Last week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the United Arab Emirates, his second to the country since the re-establishment of ties in 2018. The visit follows a trip to Oman last month.

It was widely reported  - yet not officially confirmed - that Maher al-Assad, the Syrian president’s brother and head of the feared Fourth Armoured Division, visited Saudi Arabia earlier this week and received the kingdom’s conditions for normalisation.

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A Syrian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye: "Things are getting closer.

"The Saudi deal with Iran is definitely another obstacle out of the way of more re-engagement. Saudi Arabia is a core Arab state."

In the wake of the two massive earthquakes in Turkey that killed more than 6,000 people in neighbouring Syria on 6 February, a Saudi plane carrying aid touched down last month at Aleppo airport with food and medical equipment, the first such flight in 11 years. 

Saudi officials at the airport said at the time that the operation “was carried out on the direct orders of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman”.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister earlier this month said increased engagement with Syria might pave the way for Damascus’s return to the Arab fold. 

"An engagement in order to address these concerns is necessary. And that may well lead eventually to Syria returning to the Arab League," Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said.

Syria was expelled from the Arab League after the civil war broke out, with the majority of its members backing the Syrian opposition.

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