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Arab foreign ministers discuss Syria crisis at Saudi Arabia meeting

Arab Gulf foreign ministers meeting in Jeddah, along with their counterparts from Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, have discussed the Syria crisis and Damascus’ possible return to the Arab League but no decision was taken, according to a statement by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.

Arab diplomats however agreed that the region must play a “leading role” in efforts to broker a solution to Syria’s crisis, the Saudi ministry said early on Saturday.

The diplomats discussed the “importance of having an Arab leadership role in efforts to end the crisis”, the ministry statement added. 

Some Arab states, including regional heavyweights Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have mended ties with Damascus, in contrast to 2011 when many Western and Arab states boycotted Syria’s Bashar al Assad in 2011 over his brutal crackdown on protests.

However, Syria’s broader normalisation with the Arab world remains a sensitive issue for several countries.

Earlier this week, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said the original basis for the 2011 suspension of Syria’s membership in the Arab League still stands.

Syria’s civil war has killed more than half a million people and forced about half of Syria’s pre-war population from their homes.

On Wednesday, in the latest sign of an easing in tensions with Damascus, Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad arrived in Jeddah, the first such visit since the war began.

Mekdad and his Saudi counterpart discussed “the necessary steps” to end Damascus’s isolation, according to a Saudi statement on Wednesday.

Mekdad is touring Algeria next. 

READ MORE: Qatar calls talk of Syria’s return to Arab League ‘speculation’

Iran, Yemen war 

Any recommendation to reinstate Syria in the 22-member Arab League could come in the next meeting of the League which is due to be held in Saudi Arabia in May.

The Jeddah meeting is one of a flurry of initiatives following Saudi Arabia and Iran’s landmark, Chinese-brokered announcement on March 10 that they would resume ties, seven years after an acrimonious split.

Also on Friday, an exchange of nearly 900 prisoners from Yemen’s civil war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition got under way when flights carrying captives travelled between rebel- and government-controlled areas.

The Saudi ambassador to Yemen this week held talks with Houthi forces aimed at ending the devastating civil war that has raged since the Saudi-led military intervention started in 2015.

READ MORE: ‘Discussion under way’ between Saudi Arabia, Syria over consular services

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