Syria Says UAE Will Reopen Damascus Embassy Closed in 2011

Syrian military and police forces hang their national flags on a damaged building as they hold a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood, southern Damascus, Syria, on May 22, 2018. Syrian state TV says the military and police forces are celebrating recapturing the last neighborhoods in Damascus that were held by the rebels and the Islamic State group. (SANA via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria said the United Arab Emirates will reopen its embassy in Damascus on Thursday for the first time in seven years, a reflection of improved relations between President Bashar Assad and some of his Arab foes as the war winds down.

The Information Ministry gave no further details other than inviting journalists to cover the event at the embassy in central Damascus later in the day. Workers could be seen fixing signs on the walled compound as journalists gathered outside.

The move provides a major boost to Assad, whose forces have won a series of military victories in recent years with the help of Russia and Iran. Sudan’s President Omar Bashir visited Damascus earlier this month, becoming the first Arab head of state to visit Syria since the start of the war.

The United Arab Emirates was a supporter of the Syrian opposition, which is now largely confined to the northern Idlib province after losing its strongholds elsewhere. Some opposition fighters have joined Turkey for an expected assault on Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. The UAE and other Gulf Arab supporters of the Syrian opposition view Turkey with suspicion because of its embrace of regional Islamists.

In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility. He did not name the Arab countries in the interview, which was his first with a Gulf paper since the war erupted, but said Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.

The interview came on the heels of a surprisingly warm meeting between the Syrian foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September. The meeting turned heads because it featured hugs between the two ministers.

The encounter raised questions about whether the Gulf countries, most of them sworn enemies of Assad ally Iran, are reconsidering their relations with Syria.

The UAE recalled its ambassador from Syria in 2011 after the start of the popular uprising against Assad. The Syrian Embassy in the UAE remained open.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League in 2011. Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned its use of military force against the opposition.

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