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Gulf thaw with Syria gains steam: UAE sends envoy, Saudi diplomats plan visit

The reports about the Saudi visit come after the UAE’s first ambassador to Syria in more than a decade took up his post.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greets Syrian President Bashar Assad during the Arab summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. Saudi Press Agency / Saudi Press Agency via AP

The restoration of diplomatic ties between Arab Gulf countries and Syria is currently witnessing renewed impetus more than a decade after President Bashar al-Assad’s regional isolation due to his government’s brutal crackdown of peaceful anti-regime protests.

A delegation of Saudi diplomats is reportedly heading to Damascus later this week, days after the UAE dispatched its first ambassador to the Syrian capital in more than 10 years. 

The pro-government Syrian Al-Watan newspaper said in a Wednesday report that Saudi charge d'affaires Abdullah al-Haris, along with several other diplomats, will arrive in Damascus on Saturday to resume Saudi consular services.

Citing its own sources, Al-Watan said Haris will submit his credentials to the Syrian Foreign Ministry. He will then begin his consular duties at a hotel in the capital until restoration works on the Saudi embassy in Damascus’ Abu Rummaneh neighborhood, which had been closed since 2012, are completed.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry has not commented on the report.

As Assad regained control of much of Syria's territory in the past years, some countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have rekindled their ties with the government.

In May 2023, the Arab League reinstated Syria’s membership, ending a 12-year suspension.

Saudi Arabia, which backed the Syrian opposition fighting against Assad’s forces during the war, agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Syria last year. And in December 2023, Syria's deputy foreign minister, Ayman Soussan, took up his position as ambassador to Riyadh.

In 2022, the UAE became the first Arab country to welcome Assad since the civil war erupted. The Gulf country had reopened its embassy in Syria in 2018 and appointed a charge d’affaires to run the diplomatic mission.

In a significant move this week, the UAE’s first ambassador to Syria in nearly 13 years took up his post on Tuesday.

Hassan Ahmad al-Shihi presented his credentials to Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad during a ceremony held in Damascus. According to Syria’s state news agency (SANA), the pair hailed the “deep and strong” relations between the two countries while Mekdad expressed his appreciation for the UAE’s support during last year’s deadly earthquake.

The Emirati Foreign Ministry has yet to officially announce Shihi’s appointment.

Shihi served as the UAE’s ambassador to Iraq from 2015 until 2019, and before that he was the country’s ambassador to Sudan.