BEIRUT — As Arab top officials meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday to discuss Syria’s return to the Arab fold, Jordan is proposing a plan to end the Syrian conflict and address its devastating consequences in the region.
A source close to the matter revealed to Reuters on Thursday that the kingdom has suggested the formation of a joint Arab group to “directly engage the Syrian government on a detailed plan to end the conflict.”
“The detailed roadmap deals with all the key issues … and solving the crisis so that Syria can restore its role in the region and rejoin the Arab League,” the source added.
According to the source, the plan will be on the agenda of Friday’s meeting.
The foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with their counterparts from Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, are meeting in the Saudi city of Jeddah at Saudi Arabia’s request to explore the possibility of restoring Syria’s membership to the Arab League, which has been suspended since the outbreak of the war in 2011.
Reuters reported earlier this month that Saudi Arabia plans to invite President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League summit, which it will host in May.
Most Arab countries cut ties with Assad at the onset of the Syrian war over his brutal crackdown against anti-regime protests. But the tide has turned in recent months, as several nations began showing signs of rapprochement with Assad, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
However, several others still oppose Syria’s return to the regional bloc in the absence of any political solution to the bloody conflict in the country.
Qatar, for its part, says the reasons behind Syria’s expulsion from the Arab League still stand.
“There were reasons for the suspension of Syria from the Arab League and the boycott of the Syrian regime in that time and these reasons still exist,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in an interview with Qatar TV on Thursday.
“The war has stopped but Syrian people are still displaced. There are innocent people in prisons — there are many things,” he added.
Jordan, meanwhile, is pushing for its peace plan before allowing Syria to return to the Arab League. According to the source who spoke to Reuters, the plan is based on the idea of reciprocity and includes several steps to tackle the refugee crisis and drug smuggling, and the threat of pro-Assad militias, among other issues.
Drug smuggling from war-torn Syria into neighboring Jordan has become common in recent years, with Jordan becoming a major transit route toward the Gulf countries. According to the Jordanian military, the army killed at least 30 smugglers and foiled attempts to smuggle into Jordan from Syria 16 million Captagon pills in the first two months of 2022.
In September 2021, Jordanian authorities reopened the main border crossing with Syria that had been closed for months due to violent fighting between Syrian regime forces and rebel fighters in southern Syria. The crossing was a popular transit route for hundreds of trucks a day transporting goods between Europe, Turkey and the Gulf in a multibillion-dollar annual trade.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR says more than 660,000 registered Syrian refugees are currently in Jordan, while officials put the number at 1.3 million (registered and unregistered refugees). The kingdom has repeatedly called for the refugees’ return to Syria, claiming their presence has strained local economic resources.
"We want this crisis to end — restoring security and stability to Syria is essential for regional security,” the source added.