Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Jordan, Nayef bin Bandar Al Sudairi, delivered the invitation to Assad. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Saudi Arabia has invited Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to the upcoming Arab League summit in the kingdom, the Syrian president’s office said on Wednesday.

The news comes as Damascus continues to slowly return to the Arab fold, following a 12-year-period of political isolation.

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Assad received the invitation days after the Arab League restored Syria’s membership into the organisation during a meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

The upcoming summit will take place in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on May 19.

Assad’s office published photos of the Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Jordan delivering the invitation. It was not made clear whether Assad will attend the summit.

The Syrian foreign minister paid a visit recently to the kingdom, the first in over a decade, while Riyadh and Damascus announced on Tuesday that they will reopen their embassies and restore diplomatic relations.

The restoration of diplomatic ties came more than a decade after Riyadh withdrew its representatives during Syria’s civil war.

The kingdom “has decided to resume the work of its diplomatic mission in Syria,” Riyadh’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, saying it would seek to “develop joint Arab action”.

Syria’s Sana news agency also said “the Syrian Arab Republic has decided to resume the work of its diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia,” quoting a foreign ministry source.

Assad had been politically isolated in the region since Syria’s war began, but a flurry of diplomatic activity has been underway in past weeks after a decision by Saudi Arabia and Iran, a close ally of Damascus, to resume ties shifted the political landscape.

Comprehensive political settlement

Three weeks ago Assad met in Damascus with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the first such visit since the war broke out in 2011.

At that time, Assad and Prince Faisal discussed steps to “achieve a comprehensive political settlement that... contributes to Syria’s return to the Arab fold,” the Saudi foreign ministry said.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Assad’s government in 2012.

Assad hopes normalisation with Gulf states can bring economic relief and money for reconstruction, as broader international funding remains elusive without a United Nations-backed political settlement to the conflict.

This handout picture released by the Syrian Presidency Telegram account on May 10, 2023 shows Syrian President Bashar Al Assad meeting with Saudi's ambassador to Jordan, Nayef bin Bandar Al Sudairy, in Damascus Image Credit: AFP

Political solution

On Sunday the Arab League welcomed back Syria’s government.

The body had suspended Damascus in November 2011 over its crackdown on protests, which had begun earlier that year and spiralled into a war that drew in foreign powers, has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and battered the country’s infrastructure and industry.

While the front lines have mostly quieted, large parts of the country’s north remain outside government control, and no political solution has yet been reached to the conflict.

Arab League foreign ministers on Sunday emphasised their “keenness to launch a leading Arab role in efforts to resolve” the Syria crisis.

Ahmad Abu Al Gheit, head of the 22-member Arab League, said the decision “brings the Arab side into communication with the Syrian government for the first time in years”.

‘Return is the beginning...’

Syria’s return to the bloc is “the beginning... not the end of the issue”, he added, noting it was up to individual countries to decide whether to resume ties with Damascus.

Jordan and Egypt have also renewed ties with Damascus, following normalisation efforts from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain years ago.

There is still no consensus on restoring ties with Damascus among Arab countries. Kuwait, Morocco, and Qatar, remain key opposing voices. Qatar remains a key backer of rebel groups in war-torn Syria.

Some analysts have said Syria’s reinstatement into the Arab League is largely symbolic , and anticipate that a tangible resolution could take time. Jordan earlier this months hosted talks with Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq as part of an Arab-led initiative to reach a political solution to the Syrian conflict.