Iran FM hails Arab outreach Assad regime after earthquake, despite warning from rights groups

Iran FM hails Arab outreach Assad regime after earthquake, despite warning from rights groups
Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran expressed "satisfaction with the path of rapprochement" between Syria and a number of Arab countries, who have reached out to the Assad regime following the February 6 earthquake, despite cautions from rights groups.
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Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian made the statement during a trip to Syria, which Iran has long-backed during its 12-year-long conflict [Getty]

Iran's Foreign Minister welcomed during a trip to Damascus on Thursday Arab outreach to Syria's internationally-isolated government after an earthquake struck Turkey and the war-torn country last month.

He also said Tehran, which has backed the Bashar al-Assad regime during its 12 years of war, would join efforts to reconcile Syria and Turkey, which has long supported rebel groups opposed to the Syrian president.

Assad has been politically isolated in the region since the start of Syria's war in 2011, which started as a peaceful uprising against the regime, which as in turn brutally suppressed as at least 500,000 Syrians have been killed, with millions more displaced as a result of Assad's internationally-condemned crackdown. Consequently, Syria was expelled from the Cairo-based Arab League.

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But since the devastating February 6 earthquake, Arab leaders have made overtures to his government.

"We welcome the recent opening of Syrian relations with some countries," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said during a press conference with his Syrian counterpart, according to an Arabic translation provided at the event.

Late last month Egypt's foreign minister became the third top Arab diplomat to meet Assad since the earthquake killed more than 50,000 people in total, with nearly 6,000 dead in Syria.

Assad has also received calls and earthquake aid, which has been spearhead by the United Arab Emirates.

Analysts say Syria's isolated government could leverage this momentum to bolster regional support, however, groups such as Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that Arab governments must "hold Assad accountable" for the atrocities he committed against Syrians, before re-establishing diplomatic ties.

Hiba Zayadin, senior researcher for HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said: "Arab states seeking to normalise relationships should recognise that the Syrian government in power today is the same one that has forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people and other serious human rights violations against its citizens even before the uprisings began".

Amir-Abdollahian landed on Thursday in quake-wracked Latakia province before flying to the Syrian capital, Damascus, where he met Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad as well as Assad.

He discussed with Assad "Iran joining meetings to build a dialogue between Damascus and Ankara," the Syrian presidency said.

He also said Iran "expressed satisfaction with the path of rapprochement between Syria and Arab countries," according to the presidency statement quoting Amir-Abdollahian.

With Russian and Iranian support, Damascus has clawed back much of the ground lost in the early stages of the war.

In late December, Syrian and Turkish defence ministers held talks in Moscow - the first such meeting since Syria's war began.

Assad had in January said a Russian-brokered rapprochement with Turkey should aim for "the end of occupation" by Ankara of parts of Syria.

The mooted reconciliation has alarmed Syrian opposition leaders and supporters who reside mostly in parts of the country under Ankara's indirect control.

The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, which has also sent earthquake aid to Syria, said last month that a consensus was building in the Arab world that "a new approach requiring negotiations" with Damascus would be needed to address humanitarian crises including the quake.