Emir of Qatar walks out of Arab summit ahead of Assad speech

Emir of Qatar walks out of Arab summit ahead of Assad speech
Qatari Emir Tamim ben Hamad left the Arab League summit before Bashar al-Assad spoke, as hundreds in north Syria protested against Assad's rehabilitation.
3 min read
Qatar Emir left summit as Assad was speaking and did not make his own address. (Photo credit: Twitter/@TamimBinHamad)

Every handshake would count, and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad had plenty of them at Friday's Arab League Summit - along with hugs and kisses - from his onetime foes in the region. But one key leader did not hear him speak: Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Al-Thani who in 2018 called the Syrian president a war criminal, left Jeddah after leading his country's delegation, ccording to a statement by Qatar's Emiri Diwan distributed to media as Assad was speaking. He did not make his own address.

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", the rallying cry of the protests that rocked Syria and other Arab countries in 2011.

Assad's attendance at the summit was a symbolic moment, sealing the dictator's reintegration into the Arab fold after he was suspended from the League and isolated by most of the region for over a decade over his brutal crackdown on protests against him and his atrocities during Syria's conflict.

Saudi Arabia came out strongly against Assad soon after Syria's crisis broke out in 2011 but has more recently changed tack along with many Arab countries represented at the summit - despite objections by the West and many Syrians who still see him as a war criminal.

As Assad strolled into the summit venue in the Saudi city of Jeddah on Friday afternoon, he extended his arms to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who grabbed them both and kissed Assad once on each cheek.

He later shook hands with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The two leaders smiled, gestured with their hands and tilted their heads as they chatted.

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Assad then turned briefly to speak to Tunisian President Kais al-Saeid. Assad held bilateral talks with Saeid and the UAE's Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed on Friday - and is expected to have a sit-down with bin Salman.

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.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani did not hold any bilateral meetings or give a speech at the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia's city of Jeddah, and his attendance was "a courtesy visit", an Arab official told Reuters on Friday.

The Emir left the summit before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spoke, the official added. 

(Reuters and The New Arab Staff)