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Syria’s Assad in the UAE to mark the ongoing thaw in relations


BEIRUT – Syrian President Bashar Assad arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, his first visit to the wealthy Gulf country since the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria last month.

Assad, who arrived with his wife, Asma, and a delegation of Syrian officials, was received by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, according to a statement released by Assad’s office.

Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement posted on Twitter that the two were “holding constructive talks to develop relations between our two countries”.

The visit marks a continuation of the ongoing thaw in relations between Syria and other Arab countries, more than a decade after the 22-member Arab League suspended Damascus’s membership over Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters and later civilians during the war.

International sympathy after the earthquake seems to be accelerating the regional rapprochement that has been brewing for years. Before the tragedy, the UAE had already re-established ties with Damascus. Assad’s first visit to the UAE since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 was last year, followed by another visit in January this year.

After the earthquake, the UAE’s foreign minister visited Damascus and the Gulf country sent dozens of aid shipments to Syria.

Damascus hopes that regional reconciliation will release long-awaited funds to rebuild the battered country. Analysts said, however, that it is unlikely to happen on a large scale for now.

One major obstacle: Syria has failed to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted in December 2015 as a roadmap to peace in Syria. Acceptance of the roadmap is a major demand from the US and the European Union to normalize relations with Damascus.

The World Bank said on Sunday that Syria’s real gross domestic product is expected to shrink by 5.5% in 2023 following the earthquake, with physical damage estimated at $3.7 billion and economic losses at $1.5 billion, pushing the total estimated impact of $5.2 billion. That’s on top of the already existing damage from 12 years of war.

“Economic growth may contract further if reconstruction proceeds more slowly than expected given limited public funds, weak private investment and limited humanitarian aid reaching affected areas,” the Bank said in a statement.

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