Syria's President Bashar Al Assad arrives to attend the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, on May 18, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar Al Assad arrived on Thursday in Saudi Arabia, state media said, to join an Arab League summit for the first time in more than a decade of war.

Assad “arrived at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah to participate in... the Arab League summit” on Friday, Syrian state television reported.

The 22-member bloc suspended Syria in November 2011 over Assad’s crackdown on protests which spiralled into a conflict that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries either severed or downgraded ties with Assad at the time.

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But earlier this month, the pan-Arab body welcomed Damascus back, with host Saudi Arabia inviting Assad to Friday’s summit despite objections from other Arab countries.

Syrian pro-government newspaper Al Watan said Assad will likely meet “a number of leaders in bilateral meetings” Thursday evening and Friday morning.

The last Arab League summit Assad attended was in 2010 in Libya.

Regional capitals had gradually been warming to Assad as he has held onto power and clawed back lost territory with crucial support from Iran and Russia.

Diplomatic activity picked up after a deadly earthquake struck Syria and Turkey on February 6.

A decision in March by Saudi Arabia and Damascus backer Iran to resume ties has also shifted the Middle Eastern political landscape.