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Syria's Bashar al-Assad arrives in Saudi Arabia for first trip in over a decade

Assad lands in Jeddah to attend the Arab League summit for the first time since 2010
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 18 May, 2023 (Saudi Press Agency/Reuters)

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to attend the Arab League summit, in the first such trip since 2011. 

Assad arrived in Jeddah  at King Abdulaziz International Airport where he was received by Prince Badr bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Governor of Makkah and Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the Arab League aheadof a summit hosted by Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Friday.

Syria's official news agency Sana reported on Thursday that Assad was visiting the kingdom upon an official invitation by King Salman to the summit, which was handed to him by the Saudi ambassador to Jordan, Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, last week.

Sana said Assad stressed to Sudairi that the "upcoming Arab summit in Saudi Arabia will enhance joint Arab action to achieve the aspirations of the Arab peoples."

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Assad's last visit to Saudi Arabia was in October 2010, when he met the late King Abdullah to discuss the political tension in Lebanon following the assassination of prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. 

Assad and King Abdullah also visited Beirut in July 2010 to steer Lebanon away from a simmering conflict between Saad Hariri, who is close to Saudi Arabi, and the Hezbollah movement, which is supported by the Syrian government and Iran.

Suspension from the Arab League

Syria's membership in the Arab League was suspended in November 2011 following a violent crackdown on street protests by government forces in the wake of the pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab-speaking world. 

Saudi Arabia resisted restoring relations with Assad for years but said after its recent rapprochement with Iran - Syria's key regional ally - that a new approach was needed with Damascus.

On 7 May, Arab League foreign ministers passed a decision to readmit Syria to the pan-Arab organisation, consolidating a regional push to normalise ties with Assad.

The decision said Syria could resume its participation in Arab League meetings immediately while calling for a resolution of the crisis resulting from Syria's civil war, including the flight of refugees to neighbouring countries and drug smuggling across the region.

While Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, have pushed for Syria and Assad's rehabilitation, others, including Qatar, have remained opposed to full normalisation without a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

The United States criticised Syria's readmission into the league, saying Damascus did not merit being brought back into the group while raising questions about the willingness of Assad to resolve the crisis resulting from Syria's civil war.

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