Syrian President Bashar Assad was in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his office said, marking his first visit to an Arab country since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011, reported news agency AP.
In a statement posted on its social media pages, the office says that Assad met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai. The two discussed expanding bilateral relations between their countries, it said.
The visit sends the clearest signal yet that the Arab world is willing to re-engage with Syria’s once widely shunned president. It comes against the backdrop of the raging war in Ukrainewhere Assad’s main ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is pressing on with a military offensive, now in its fourth week, raining lethal fire on Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv. Syria has supported Russia’s invasion, blaming the West for having provoked it.
Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and boycotted by its neighbors after the conflict broke out 11 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the war, which displaced half of Syria’s population.
Large parts of Syria have been destroyed and reconstruction would cost tens of billions of dollars.