Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has arrived in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, Al Arabiya and Syrian state TV reported.
Al-Assad will attend the Arab League summit tomorrow, Friday, after Syria returned to the regional organization this month, more than 11 years after it was suspended.
Assad and his government have been ostracized since 2011 by the brutal crackdown on opposition protesters and the ensuing devastating war in Syria.
But the president’s arrival in regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia on Thursday is the latest example of the majority of Arab countries now trying to restore relations.
The host country was previously a major supporter of armed opposition groups seeking to overthrow Assad during the war in Syria.
However, in recent months Riyadh has called for dialogue to end the conflict that has killed half a million people and displaced half of Syria’s pre-war population.
Assad’s forces have taken control of much of Syria, thanks to his two main allies, Russia and Iran, which has helped tip the balance of power in his favor.
Relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia have been tense since Assad came to power in 2000 following the death of his father and former president, Hafez al-Assad. Relations between the two countries were severed in 2012. They agreed last week to reopen their embassies.
Steps leading to Syria’s reintegration into the Arab fold date back at least to 2018, when the United Arab Emirates restored relations with Damascus.
The process accelerated after deadly earthquakes hit northern Syria and southern Turkey in February, prompting an influx of aid from the region.
After the earthquakes, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said that there is a consensus in the Arab world on the need to adopt a new approach in dealing with Syria, which requires negotiations with Damascus, to deal with humanitarian crises.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for peace in the region, and in recent months Riyadh has improved its relations with Iran, restored relations with Syria and almost ended the kingdom’s involvement in the war in Yemen several years ago. . . Iran, the main backer of the Syrian government, signed an agreement in China in March to restore relations with Saudi Arabia.
The revival of Saudi-Iranian relations is expected to have positive effects on countries in the Middle East, as both sides support the two rival groups.