JEDDAH: A delegation of senior Arab parliamentarians met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Sunday, another sign of thawing ties after more than a decade of isolation over the conflict in Syria.
The heads of the Iraqi, Jordanian, Palestinian, Libyan, Egyptian and UAE 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 pro-regime 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 erupted against his rule in 2011.
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 Feb. 6, which killed more than 5,900 people across his country, according to a tally of UN and Syrian government figures.
Donors have included Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The UAE sent more aid-loaded planes than any other nation, including Russia and Iran.
Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi spoke with Assad by phone for the first time on Feb. 7 and Jordan’s foreign minister made his first trip to Damascus on Feb. 15.
Assad then traveled to Oman on Feb. 20 — the first time he left Syria since the quake. Assad’s 2022 visit to the UAE was his first trip to an Arab state since the 2011 outbreak of war.
The lawmakers’ visit follows a mini-summit in Baghdad that affirmed the Arab League’s intentions of having Syria return to the organization despite the war.
Egypt’s parliament Speaker Hanafy El-Gebaly said in Damascus that the Arab delegation was “visiting brotherly Syria to support the Syrian people” after the quake. He cited the joint statement from the Baghdad meeting about the need to begin the process of “bringing Syria back to the Arab fold.”