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Bashar Al Jaafari leaves the Palais des Nations after holding talks with Staffan de Mistura in Geneva, on Friday. Image Credit: AP

Damascus: On January 21, 2020, the semi-official Syrian daily Al Watan ran a story saying that Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Al Jaafary attended a function in honor of the Saudi Minister of State Fahad Bin Abdullah Al Mubarak, marking the first such meeting in nearly ten years.

The Syrian daily did not specify where or when the meeting took place in New York.

Meanwhile, Riyadh neither confirmed the story nor denied it.

The “special invitation,” added Al Watan, was extended to Jaafary by Saudi Arabi’s permanent ambassador to the UN Abdullah Al Moualimi, on occasion of Saudi Arabia’s chairing of the G20 Summit in Riyadh next November.

According to what Al Watan described as “diplomatic sources” in New York, Saudi officials expressed a “positive surprise” at seeing Jaafary at the event, with one saying: “What happened between Syria and Saudi Arabia needs to pass.”

Ties severed in 2011

Saudi Arabia suspended its diplomatic relations with Damascus in August 2011, five months after start of the Syrian conflict.

During the years 2011-2018, Syrian state media often criticised Saudi Arabia for supporting the Syrian opposition and hosting the Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC), a Riyadh based opposition group, previously headed by defected Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab.

In late December 2019, Saudi Arabia purged the HNC from a handful of Turkish-backed opposition members, replacing them with independents who were not affiliated with Ankara or the Muslim Brotherhood.

The list of eight newcomers included Nibras Al Fadel, a former economic adviser to President Bashar Al Assad, who is also a member of the constitutional committee meeting in Geneva since October to pen a new charter for Syria, in accordance with UNSCR 2254.