Saudi King invites Syria's Assad to attend Arab League summit, Syrian state media reports
FILE PHOTO-Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz performs Eid al-Fitr prayer at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, April 21, 2023. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
DAMASCUS (Reuters) -Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz has invited Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to attend an Arab League summit in the Gulf country on May 19, Syrian state media reported on Wednesday.
Arab foreign ministers had on Sunday agreed that Syria could resume its role in the body, 12 years after its membership was suspended over Assad's crackdown on protests against him.
The invitation is a powerful signal that the regional isolation of Assad and his war-battered country is ending.
Regional countries - including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others - had for years supported anti-Assad rebels but Syria's army, backed by Iran, Russia and allied paramilitary groups, regained most of the country.
The icy ties with Assad began to thaw more quickly after the devastating earthquakes in February. Saudi Arabia's foreign minister visited Damascus last month and his ministry on Tuesday said that the kingdom will reopen its diplomatic mission in Damascus.
Sources had told Reuters in April that Assad would be invited to the summit. While Arab countries appear to have brought the Syrian leader in from the cold, they are still making key demands for him to curb Syria's flourishing drugs trade and secure the return of refugees.
(Reporting by Maya Gebeily, Kinda Makieh and Enas Alashray; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)