Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19 (EFE).- Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on Friday took part in an Arab League summit for the first time since 2011, as Arab nations welcome him back to the international stage following 12 years of isolation over the civil war in Syria.
This was Assad’s first appearance at the summit since he was frozen out over his regime’s brutal repression of popular uprisings in 2011 and alleged human rights violations committed during the crackdown against Arab Spring protests that eventually led to the civil war, which is still being fought.
The Arab League lifted its suspension on May 7, after several countries – led by Sunni regional power Saudi Arabia – had reconciled or shown signs of rapprochement with the Syrian president’s government in the preceding months.
Since massive earthquakes devastated Syria in February, many countries in the region have moved to reestablish ties with Damascus.
Images broadcast from the Western Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah showed Assad taking his seat at the summit after posing for a group photo with other leaders.
In his opening remarks, Assad called for the region’s internal affairs to be restructured to reduce “foreign interventions.”
“Today we are facing a historic opportunity to reshuffle our affairs with as few foreign interventions as possible and this means repositioning our affairs in this world that is already formed,” the Syrian leader said.
He defended the role of the Arab League as the “original platform to address the different issues and solve them”, and called on members to take advantage of the “positive atmosphere” created by the recent reconciliations between various countries in the Middle East.
The Secretary General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said Syria’s return to the pan-Arab organization represents “an opportunity that should not be missed to address the crisis that the country has been suffering for more than a decade.”
“The political solution remains the only way to solve it,” Aboul Gheit said during his opening speech.
The consequences of the war “went beyond the borders of the Syrian homeland”, he said, urging the members of the League to “contribute to finding effective solutions to the many Syrian pains.”
Not all the Arab League member states approve of Syria’s return, however. The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, left Jeddah without giving a speech during the opening of the summit.
Along with Morocco, Qatar was one of the members most opposed to Damascus’ return to the Arab League, arguing that there has been no political process to resolve the civil war in Syria.
The official Syrian news agency SANA reported that the Qatari emir and Assad shook hands and had held a “separate” conversation before the meeting of Arab heads of state.
After leaving Jeddah, according to the state-run Qatari News Agency (QNA), the emir sent a message to the Saudi authorities expressing his “thanks and appreciation for the warm hospitality and generosity” for hosting the summit, adding that he hoped “its results will contribute to strengthening the common Arab cooperation for the benefit of the Arab peoples”. EFE