DAMASCUS: Egypt’s foreign minister met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday in the first visits to Syria and Turkiye by a top Egyptian diplomat in a decade.

Assad has benefited from an outpouring of Arab support since devastating earthquakes hit his country and neighbouring Turkiye this month, helping to ease the diplomatic isolation he has faced over Syria’s civil war which began in 2011.

“The goal of the visit is primarily humanitarian, and to pass on our solidarity from the leadership, the government and the people of Egypt to the people of Syria,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters in Damascus.

Egypt was looking forward to providing more quake assistance in full coordination with the Syrian government after already having donated some 1,500 tonnes, Shoukry added, standing alongside Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

“When the foreign minister of Egypt comes to Damascus, he comes to his home, his people, and his country,” Mekdad said.

The Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 over the government’s deadly crackdown on protests, and many US-allied Arab states backed the opposition seeking to topple Assad.

But a number of Arab states, most prominently the United Arab Emirates, have shifted approach towards normalising ties in recent years, after Assad defeated his insurgent enemies across much of the country helped by Iran and Russia.

Shoukry did not respond to reporters’ questions on whether Egypt would support lifting the Arab League’s suspension of Syria.

­­­­­­­Ties between Syria and Egypt were briefly cut during the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohamed Mursi.

Egypt reopened its embassy in Syria in 2013 after the army removed Mursi from power, but kept Assad at arm’s length. Shoukry met Mekdad in 2021 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Following the quake, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke with Assad by phone for the first time and on Sunday a delegation of parliamentarians from around the region, including Egypt’s parliament speaker, met Assad in Damascus.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2023

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