Syria's Assad meets senior Arab officials in Damascus
A delegation of senior Arab parliamentarians met with Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Sunday, another sign of thawing ties after more than a decade of isolation over the conflict in Syria that has killed close to half a million people.
The heads of the Iraqi, Jordanian, Palestinian, Libyan, Egyptian and Emirati houses of representatives, as well as representatives from Oman and Lebanon, traveled to Syria as part of a delegation from the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union.
They met with Syrian parliamentarians and with Assad, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
"We cannot do without Syria and Syria cannot do without its Arab environment, which we hope it can return to," said Iraqi parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi.
Syria was largely isolated from the rest of the Arab world following Assad's deadly crackdown against protests that started as a peaceful uprising against his rule in 2011. Assad's clampdown on civilians has resulted in the death of nearly 500,000 Syrians, and the displacement of millions more.
Moreover, Syria has since plunged into poverty, amid economic and unemployment woes, drawing widespread condemnation from rights groups.
The Arab League suspended Syria's membership in 2011 and many Arab countries pulled their envoys out of Damascus.
But Assad has benefited from an outpouring of support from Arab states following the devastating earthquake on February 6, which killed more than 5,900 people in Syria, according to a tally of UN and Syrian government figures.
Donors have included Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which both supported rebels seeking to overthrow Assad in the early years of the Syrian conflict.
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke with Assad by phone for the first time on February 7 and Jordan's foreign minister made his first trip to Damascus on February 15.
Assad then traveled to Oman on February 20 - the first time he left Syria since the quake.
He had rarely left Syria during the war, travelling only to close allies Russia and Iran whose military support helped him turn the tide of the conflict.
Assad's 2022 visit to the UAE was his first trip to an Arab state since the 2011 outbreak of war.