Syria’s Assad lands in Saudi for Arab summit: state TV – World

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, state media said, to join an Arab League summit for the first time in more than a decade of war.

    The visit seals Assad’s dramatic return to the Arab fold, a development championed by host Saudi Arabia and fellow Gulf power the United Arab Emirates despite reservations from other Arab leaders.

    Assad “arrived at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah to participate in… the Arab League summit” to be held Friday, Syrian state television reported.

    Saudi state-affiliated channel Al-Ekhbariya showed footage of a smiling Assad disembarking from a plane and being greeted on the tarmac by Prince Badr bin Sultan, deputy governor of Makkah region, where Jeddah is located.

    The Arab League suspended Damascus in November 2011 over its bloody crackdown on protests, which triggered a conflict that has gone on to kill more than 500,000 people and displace millions more.

    Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries either severed or downgraded ties with Assad at the time — with Riyadh long openly championing his ouster.

    But earlier this month, the 22-member pan-Arab body welcomed Damascus back and Saudi Arabia invited Assad to Jeddah, the latest in a series of high-profile diplomatic twists reshaping the region in recent months.

    Syrian pro-government newspaper al-Watan said Assad would likely meet “a number of leaders in bilateral meetings” on Thursday evening and Friday morning.

    The last Arab League summit Assad attended was in 2010 in Libya.

    Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume ties has also shifted the Middle Eastern political landscape.

    Riyadh, which cut ties with Assad’s government in 2012, confirmed last week that work would resume at the two countries’ respective diplomatic missions.

    Not every country in the region has been eager 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.

    On Thursday, the emir of Qatar, a fierce critic of the Syrian leader, announced he would lead the Gulf state’s delegation.

    While the Qatari government has called for accountability for “war crimes” in Syria, the emir made no comment on Qatar’s expectations for the summit.

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