Saudi top diplomat heads to Syria for first visit since war

The visit comes less than a week after Syrian FM Mekdad visited the kingdom, also on the first such visit since the start of the conflict in 2011

By AFP

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Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad meet with Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Jeddah. — AFP file
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad meet with Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Jeddah. — AFP file

Published: Tue 18 Apr 2023, 12:48 PM

Last updated: Tue 18 Apr 2023, 12:50 PM

Saudi Arabia's top diplomat is due to arrive in Damascus on Tuesday on the first visit by a Saudi official since the start of Syria's civil war, Syria's information ministry said.

Recent months have seen increasing Arab engagement with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, who has been politically isolated in the region since the war broke out.

A flurry of regional diplomatic activity has been underway in the past week as regional relations shift following a decision by Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume ties.

"Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan is arriving at Damascus international airport today on an official visit to Syria," the ministry said in a statement.

It said the Saudi minister was due to arrive in the afternoon.

The visit comes less than a week after Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad visited Saudi Arabia, also on the first such visit since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

In a meeting, Mekdad and his Saudi counterpart discussed "the necessary steps" to end Damascus's isolation, according to a Saudi statement issued on Wednesday.

Also last week, Arab countries gathered in the Saudi city of Jeddah to discuss ending Syria's long spell in the diplomatic wilderness.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Assad's government in 2012 and Riyadh had long openly championed Assad's ouster, backing Syrian rebels in earlier stages of the war.

But a February 6 earthquake that wreaked devastation in Turkey and Syria sparked Arab outreach to Assad's government, and the surprise rapprochement between Riyadh and Damascus-backer Tehran was announced the following month.

Prince Faisal had said in February that a consensus was building in the Arab world that a new approach to Syria requiring negotiations with Damascus would be needed to address humanitarian crises.

Riyadh sent aid to both rebel-held and government-controlled parts of Syria, but the effort did not involve direct contact with Assad's government.

In March, Saudi state media had said that Riyadh and Damascus were in talks on resuming consular services.

Syria's war has killed more than half a million people, while around half of the country's pre-war population has been forced from their homes.

With support from its allies Iran and Russia, Damascus has clawed back much of the ground lost in the early stages of the war..


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