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Saudi Arabia and Syria resume regular flights as thaw with Assad advances

The move signals a new step toward further developing the relations between the two countries.
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

A passenger plane operated by Syria’s national airline landed at Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid International Airport on Wednesday, marking the resumption of regular commercial flights between the two countries after a hiatus of more than 10 years.

The state-owned Riyadh Airports Company organized a ceremony at the Saudi airport to welcome the Syrian Airlines flight, in the presence of Syria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ayman Soussan, and a number of Saudi officials in the air transport sector, Syria's official news agency SANA reported.

In a statement carried by SANA, Soussan praised the return of regular flights as an “additional step” in the development of relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria.

The Syrian diplomat told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the plane that carried 170 passengers to Riyadh was the first of a weekly round-trip flight from Damascus to Riyadh, which the two countries agreed to operate.

More direct flights from Damascus to other airports in Jeddah and Dammam may be included in the future based on demand, Syrian Transport Ministry official Suleiman Khalil revealed to AFP.

Temporary flights for Syrian pilgrims heading to Mecca to perform the annual Hajj began in May, further signaling a thaw in Saudi-Syrian relations.

At least 7,000 Syrians traveled from Syria to the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah during the Hajj season, Reuters reported last month, citing Bassem Mansour, director general of the Syrian Civil Aviation Authority.

Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries cut ties with President Bashar al-Assad in 2012 over his brutal crackdown on peaceful protests against his regime.

But the tide turned after the Arab League reinstated Syria’s membership in May 2023, ending a 12-year suspension, as several nations began showing signs of rapprochement with Assad.

In March 2023, Saudi Arabia agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Syria. And in December of that year, Soussan took up his position as ambassador to Riyadh. Since then, the two countries have sought to advance their relations in various fields.

During her visit to Riyadh in May, Syrian Culture Minister Labana Mshaweh discussed with her Saudi counterpart, Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, popular heritage, arts, museums and cultural cooperation between the two countries.  

The same day, the head of the Saudi humanitarian agency KSrelief, Abdullah Al Rabeeah, met Syrian Health Minister Hassan Al-Ghabbash in Geneva. The talks focused on humanitarian and relief issues including the 2023 Syrian earthquake.

Earlier in March, Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad headed to Riyadh where he met with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, in the fourth such visit since the two countries resumed their relations. During their meeting, the ministers discussed bilateral relations and ways to boost them.