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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 8 December 2019

UAE reopens embassy in Damascus after six years

The return of the Emirati mission to the Syrian capital could be another sign Bashar Al Assad's government is being cautiously admitted back into the Arab fold

The UAE announced the reopening of its embassy in Damascus on Thursday in a sign of thawing relations between the Syrian government and the Arab world after years of diplomatic isolation.

The Emirates closed its embassy in the early phases of the Syrian conflict but the reopening ceremony on Thursday afternoon marked significant reconciliation with Damascus.

The UAE was part of the international Friends of Syria collective that supported opposition groups.

Thursday’s resumption of diplomatic ties is the latest sign that President Bashar Al Assad has emerged unscathed from a war in which more than 500,000 Syrians are estimated to have died.

The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, said the country’s decision came after a “careful reading of developments” and the “birth of a conviction” that the next phase requires Arab involvement to protect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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He said on Twitter that an Arab role in Syria had become necessary to combat the growing influence of Turkey and Iran.

“The UAE is working to activate this role through its presence in Damascus,” Dr Gargash said, adding that it also hoped to contribute to a political solution to the war.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said the reopening of the embassy “reaffirms the keenness of the UAE to restore relations between the two friendly countries to their normal course”.

“It will strengthen and activate the Arab role in supporting the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and to prevent the dangers of regional interference in Syrian Arab affairs,” the ministry said.

On Thursday afternoon, the UAE’s charge d’affaires Abdul Hakim Naimi visited the embassy and watched the flag being raised again on the compound in central Damascus.

Speaking outside the embassy, Mr Naimi welcomed Syria back into the Arab fold and said other Arab states would soon reopen embassies in the country.

“The opening of our embassy is a first step for the return of other Arab embassies,” Mr Naimi said.

Diplomatic figures including Iraq’s ambassador to Damascus took part in the reopening ceremony.

In October, Mr Al Assad told a Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a "major understanding" with Arab states.

This month, Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir became the first Arab leader to visit Syria since the start of the conflict.

Vital ally Russia has been active in lobbying for the regime to be welcomed back among Arab nations. President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East said this week that Mr Al Assad remained popular. "If he wasn’t, the results of the last few years would have been different,” Mikhail Bogdanov said.

Arab League states are now considering reinstating Syria's membership of the pan-Arab body, seven years after it was expelled over the government's violent response to protests at the start of the war.

But Damascus should have never been expelled from the body, Dr Anwar Gargash told The National in June. "It was a mistake to kick Syria out of the Arab League. It meant we had no political leverage at all, no open channel. We could not present an Arab prism to how the Syrian issue should be resolved," he said.

There is now a growing feeling among the league’s 22 members that Syria should be readmitted to the alliance, with the Arab Parliament arguing that Syria must be welcomed back.

Recently, the UAE has been increasingly active in promoting diplomacy as a critical tool towards increasing peace and stability in the Middle East.

Renovations have been under way on the UAE embassy compound in the Abu Ramaneh district of Damascus in recent days. On Thursday local television showed a worker installing the UAE’s seal on a wall outside the embassy.

Throughout the war, Syria maintained its consulates in the UAE.

There are also direct flights on Syria's national carrier to Dubai and between the port city of Latakia and the emirate of Sharjah.

Oman, with its policy of quiet diplomacy, is the only Gulf Arab country to have kept its embassy in Damascus open throughout the civil war. In March, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Moallem visited Oman on a rare trip by a Syrian official to the Arabian Peninsula.

Also on Thursday, pro-government news outlets in Syria reported the first flight in years between Damascus and Tunisia's capital by Syria's private Sham Wings.

Updated: December 29, 2018 09:23 AM