Syria attends first Arab League meeting in 11 years

Syria attends first Arab League meeting in 11 years
Saudi Arabia will host a Syrian delegation to the first Arab League meeting for the first time since 2011.
3 min read
Syria was expelled from the Arab League in 2011 [Getty]

Syria ended over a decade of exile from the Arab League on Monday as officials participated in a preparatory session ahead of Friday's summit in Saudi Arabia.

"I... take this opportunity to welcome the Syrian Arab Republic to the League of Arab States," Saudi finance minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told the meeting, which was broadcast live by state TV channel Al Ekhbariya.

Jadaan added that he was "looking forward to working with everyone to achieve what we aspire to", as the camera panned to the Syrian delegation.

It is the first time Syrian officials have participated in an Arab League meeting since the body suspended Damascus in November 2011 over its brutal crackdown on protests which spiralled into a conflict that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.

Live Story

Earlier this month, the pan-Arab body officially welcomed back the Syrian regime, securing President Bashar al-Assad's return to the Arab fold.

Saudi King Salman has invited Assad to attend Friday's summit in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, which would be his first since the 2010 meeting in Libya.

Regional capitals have gradually been warming to Assad as he has held onto power and clawed back lost territory with crucial support from Iran and Russia.

The United Arab Emirates re-established ties with Syria in 2018 and has been leading the recent charge to reintegrate Damascus.

Diplomatic activity picked up after a deadly earthquake struck Syria and Turkey on 6 February.

A decision in March by Saudi Arabia and Iran, a close ally of Damascus, to resume ties has also shifted the regional political landscape.

Riyadh, which cut ties with Assad's government in 2012 and had long openly championed the Syrian leader's ouster, confirmed last week that work would resume at the two countries' respective diplomatic missions.

But while Syria's frontlines have mostly quietened, large parts of the north remain outside government control, and no political solution to the conflict is in sight.

Top diplomats from nine Arab countries discussed the Syria crisis in Saudi Arabia last month, and five regional foreign ministers including Syria's met in Jordan on 1 May.

But not every country in the region has been quick to mend ties with Assad.

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

Syrian activists and opposition members have also condemned the Assad regime's return to the Arab fold, with more than 100,000 detainees still missing in regime jails and hundreds of thousands of civilians killed over the past decade in shelling and air strikes.