Oman's foreign minister visits Damascus in new sign of thawing ties

Diplomats have been championing the drive to readmit Syria into the Arab League

Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal Al Mekdad, right, spoke with Oman's Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi in Damascus on Monday.  AFP
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Oman's Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi arrived in Damascus on Monday in another sign of a growing rapprochement between Syria and several Arab countries.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Al Mekdad received Mr Albusaidi, who led an official delegation during the visit, the state news agency Sana reported.

Mr Al Mekdad said his country’s ties with Oman remained strong and had not been affected by the civil war.

He thanked Mr Albusaidi for his country’s support “in the war on terrorism.”

Syrian state media published images of the two ministers sitting in an opulent lounge under a large portrait of President Bashar Al Assad, whose family has ruled the country for more than 40 years.

Oman was one of the few Arab countries that didn’t break ties with Syria after the war broke out.

The Syrian government has long said it is fighting foreign-backed terrorists in the conflict. In 2011, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of the country against the Al Assad regime.

The protests were met with violence and the country soon descended into a bloody civil war. Eleven years on, Mr Assad is still holding on to power owing to enormous military support from Iran and Russia.

Government forces have managed to recapture most of the territory previously held by fragmented rebel groups, with the exception of Idlib governorate in the north-west of the country and parts of eastern Syria, where Kurdish militias and US forces hold sway.

Syria was expelled from the Arab League in 2012 over the regime's violent response to opposition. Human rights groups have also condemned the regime for atrocities committed by its security forces and paramilitary groups, including the bombing of schools, hospitals and residential areas in rebel-held territory.

Top diplomats in the Arab world have been championing the drive to readmit Syria to the pan-Arab organisation in a bid seen by observers as aiming at reducing Iran's influence in the region.

Last week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met his Omani counterpart in Muscat. At a joint press conference, Mr Shukri extended another gesture of friendship towards Damascus.

“We look forward to seeing Damascus back in the Arab League. But the Syrian government should take necessary steps to facilitate the return,” he said without elaborating on what kind of measures should be taken by Damascus.

Last year, Mr Shoukry met the Syrian foreign minister in New York for the first time in more than a decade. Egypt has agreed to export natural gas to help ease Lebanon’s fuel crisis via a pipeline that runs through Syria.

As some countries in the 22-member organisation pursue a wait-and-see strategy, others have said they want to see a political agreement between Damascus and opposition groups before Syria can be brought back to the Arab League.

Syria has promising investment opportunities, especially in the reconstruction sector but investors are concerned by stringent US sanctions against the Al Assad regime.

Updated: January 31, 2022, 2:18 PM