Saudi Arabia invites Syrian president to Arab summit

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Beirut: Saudi Arabia has invited Syrian President Bashar Assad to the upcoming Arab League summit in the oil-rich kingdom, the Syrian president’s office said on Wednesday.

The news comes as Damascus continues to slowly return to the Arab fold, following a 12-year-period of political isolation.

Assad received the invitation days after the Arab League restored Syria’s membership into the organisation during a meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

Syria’s membership was suspended for brutally cracking down on mass protests against Assad in 2011. Since then, the uprising turned into a vicious civil war that killed nearly a half million people and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

The upcoming summit will take place in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on May 19.

Assad’s office published photos of the Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Jordan delivering the invitation. It was not made clear whether Assad will attend the summit.

Saudi Arabia had been a key backer of armed opposition groups attempting to overthrow the embattled Syrian president, but in recent months had called for dialogue. On Tuesday, the Syrian foreign minister paid a visit to the kingdom, the first in over a decade, while Riyadh and Damascus announced Tuesday that they will reopen their embassies and restore diplomatic relations.

Jordan and Egypt have also renewed ties with Damascus, following normalisation efforts from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain years ago.

There is still no consensus on restoring ties with Damascus among Arab countries. Kuwait, Morocco, and Qatar, remain key opposing voices. Qatar remains a key backer of rebel groups in war-torn Syria.

Some analysts have said Syria’s reinstatement into the Arab League is largely symbolic, and anticipate that a tangible resolution could take time. Jordan earlier this months hosted talks with Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq as part of an Arab-led initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

The meeting also discussed other regional issues, such as refugees and drug smuggling.

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