Sat, Dec 29, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Emirati embassy reopens in Syria; Bahrain to follow

WARMING TIES:Nations might change their stances toward al-Assad ahead of a March Arab League meeting in hopes of weaning Syria off Iranian and Russian influence

AFP, DAMASCUS

Workers clean the metal plaque on the outer wall of the Emirati embassy during the inauguration ceremony of its reopening in Damascus, Syria, on Thursday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday reopened its embassy in Damascus in the latest sign of efforts to bring the Syrian government back into the Arab fold.

The UAE broke ties with Syria in February 2012 as the repression of nationwide protests demanding regime change was escalating into a devastating war.

Nearly seven years later, the Emirati flag was raised again during a ceremony attended by diplomats and journalists.

An acting charge d’affaires has already started working, an Emirati statement said, adding that the UAE is “keen to put relations back on their normal track.”

It said that the resumption of ties aimed to “support the sovereignty and independence of Syria” and face “the dangers of regional interferences.”

Rumors that the Emirati embassy might reopen had circulated for days as renovation work was seen getting under way at the building.

A visit to Damascus by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month had been interpreted by some observers as a sign of regional efforts to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s diplomatic isolation.

A few hours after the UAE’s announcement, Bahrain signaled its intention to reopen its embassy in Damascus, which has been closed since March 2012.

The Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it was “anxious to continue relations” with Syria and wants “to strengthen the Arab role and reactivate it in order to preserve the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and prevent the risk of regional interference in its affairs.”

Syria was suspended from the Arab League in November 2011 as the death toll was escalating and several regional powers bet on al-Assad’s demise.

The conflict has now killed more than 360,000 people.

Al-Assad’s seat at the helm, which he inherited from his father in 2000, appeared to be hanging by a thread until Russia’s 2015 military intervention turned things around.

Government forces and allied militia have since steadily regained significant ground. They now firmly control the Damascus region and several key trade routes in the country.

The past few days have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity that looks set to continue until the next summit of the Arab League, due in Tunis in March.

“Recent discussions on this issue have not yielded a consensus,” Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Hossam Zaki told reporters in Cairo on Monday.

However, he added: “This does not rule out a possible change of the Arab position in the future.”

Ali Mamlouk, Syria’s intelligence chief and a key figure in the al-Assad regime, travelled to Egypt last week on an official visit.

With military operations winding down in several parts of the country and the capital fully secure, Damascus is also working on breaking its physical isolation.

Trade with Jordan resumed over the past few weeks, after the reopening of a border crossing, and Thursday saw the first commercial flight to Tunisia in years.

An ariplane operated by Damascus-based Cham Wings Airlines completed the first flight between the two countries since 2011.

“This trip is the reopening of tourism links between Syria and Tunisia,” said Moataz Tarbin, the head of the tourism firm that organized the flight.

It was not yet clear whether more Arab countries, several of which were accused by al-Assad of once supporting militants and rebels, could follow in the UAE’s footsteps.

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