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Assad uses Arab League speech to attack 'Ottoman' Turkey

Assad uses Arab League speech to attack 'Ottoman' Turkey
4 min read
Syrian President Assad has used his return to the Arab League to attack Turkey, while Qatari Emir Tamim refused to greet him at the speech.
Assad was welcomed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [Getty]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attacked Turkey during his speech at the Arab League summit on Friday, as other Arab leaders welcomed him back into the fold.

"There are many issues for which there are not enough words or summits, including the crimes of the Zionist entity [Israel]... against the resisting Palestinians and the danger of Ottoman expanisionist thought which is flavoured with deviant Muslim Brotherhood ideology," Assad said.

It was the first time Assad had appeared at the Arab League since his regime was suspended in 2011 over its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that led to a conflict which claimed the lives of 500,000 people.

Turkey has backed the Syrian opposition and intervened militarily in northern Syria, while Assad received crucial backing from Russia and Iran.

Most Arab states also cut ties with the Assad regime following its atrocities against protesters and civilians, but many restored them after it gained the upper hand in the Syrian conflict.

In his speech Assad also called on Arab states not to interfere in each other's "internal affairs" and to prevent "foreign intervention", saying that Arab countries were "able to take care of their affairs".

"I hope that it marks the beginning of a new phase of Arab action for solidarity among us, for peace in our region, development and prosperity instead of war and destruction," Assad told the gathering in Jeddah.

As leaders walked into the main hall, Assad exchanged greetings with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and before the opening ceremony he met Tunisia's president and the vice president of the United Arab Emirates.

"I would like to loudly welcome Syria back to its seat among its brothers," Algerian Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane said in the opening speech of the summit.

"We are pleased today by the attendance of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in this summit," Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, said in his remarks, adding he hoped the return would lead to "stability" in Syria.

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Qatar refuses Assad's embrace

The embrace of Assad was a marked departure for Saudi Arabia, which backed the Syrian opposition and supported rebel groups during earlier stages of Syria's war and accused Assad, a staunch Iran ally, of operating a "killing machine".

Back home in Syria, hundreds in the rebel-held north protested against Assad's rehabilitation with chants of "the people want the fall of the regime", rallying cry of the protests that rocked Syria and other Arab countries in 2011.

In his speech, Assad thanked Prince Mohammed "for the great role he played and the intense efforts he exerted to promote reconciliation in our region".

Not every country in the region has been eager to mend ties with Assad, however.

One key leader did not hear him speak: Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who in 2018 called the Syrian president a war criminal.

Al-Thani left Jeddah after leading his country's delegation, according to a statement by Qatar's Emiri Diwan distributed to media as Assad was speaking, and did not make his own address.

Syria's state news agency had reported that the Emir and Assad shook hands and spoke briefly on the sidelines before the summit began - but there was no statement on Qatari media.

An Arab official told Reuters that the Emir did not hold any bilateral meetings and left the summit before Assad spoke. 

Qatar said this month it would not normalise relations with Assad's government but noted this would not be "an obstacle" to Arab League reintegration.

From Riyadh's perspective, a successful summit would involve concrete commitments from Syria on issues including war refugees and the captagon trade, said Torbjorn Soltvedt of the risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

(The New Arab Staff, AFP, and Reuters)