Assad Visits United Arab Emirates in Latest Sign of Re-Commitment

DAMASCUS, Syria – The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, was in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his office said, his first visit to an Arab country since entering the United Arab Emirates. The civil war in Syria broke out in 2011.

In a statement posted on its social media pages, Mr Assad’s office said he had met Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of Emirates, who is also the ruler of Dubai. The two discussed expanding bilateral relations between Syria and the United Kingdom.

The visit sends the clearest signal that the Arab world is ready to rejoin with Syria’s widely shunned president. It comes against the background of the war in Ukraine, Assad’s main ally, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, is pressuring with a military strike, now in its fourth week. Syria has supported the Russian invasion, accusing the West of provoking it.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and ostracized by neighboring countries after civil war broke out 11 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in a war that has displaced half of Syria’s population. Large parts of the country have already been destroyed, and reconstruction will cost tens of billions of dollars.

Arab and Western countries often blame Assad’s deadly crackdown on the 2011 protests for starting the war, and they supported the opposition in the early days of the conflict.

When asked about Assad’s visit to the Emirates, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was “deeply disappointed and disturbed by this apparent attempt to legitimize Bashar al-Assad, who remains responsible for the death and suffering of countless Syrians. , the displacement of more than half of Syria’s population before the war, and the arbitrary detention and disappearance of more than 150,000 Syrian men, women and children”.

Assad very rarely went outside of Syria during the war, only visiting Russia and Iran. Tehran has given the Syrian government billions of dollars in aid and sent Iran-backed fighter jets to fight alongside its forces – that support, coupled with Russia’s air power, has turned the tide. in favor of Assad.

With the war coming to a stalemate and Assad regaining control of much of the country, Arab countries have been inching closer to restoring ties with the Syrian leader in recent years.

Emirates reopened its embassy in Syria at the end of 2018 in the most significant Arab invasion of the Assad regime, although relations remain frosty. Last fall, the Emirati foreign minister flew to Damascus for a meeting with Mr. Assad, the first visit by the country’s top diplomat since 2011. The United States, a close partner of the United States The emirate, which criticized the visit at the time, said it would not support any normalization of relations with Mr. Assad’s government.

An important motive for the overthrows of the Sunni Muslim states in the Persian Gulf was to prevent the involvement of the Shiite-led enemy, Iran, whose influence expanded rapidly in the Persian Gulf. The chaotic Syrian war.

However, a partnership can serve both sides.

Syria desperately needs to improve relations with oil-rich countries as its economy is strangled by Western sanctions and as it faces the task of rebuilding after the war. Emirates is also home to thousands of Syrians who work there and send money home to their loved ones back home.

Emirates’ state news agency WAM said the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, hosted Mr Assad at his palace in Abu Dhabi.

At the meeting, the crown prince expressed hope that “this visit will be the beginning of peace and stability for Syria and the entire region”, according to the report. Mr Assad is believed to have left the Emirates from Abu Dhabi late on Friday.

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