DUBAI: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad held talks in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, his first official visit to an Arab country since civil war erupted in 2011, UAE state media said.
Assad met with the UAE’s de facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, discussing “fraternal relations” between the two countries and efforts to “contribute to the consolidation of security, stability and peace in the Arab region and the Middle East”, the WAM news agency reported.
The meeting is the latest sign of warming ties between Syria and the UAE, which broke ties with Damascus in February 2012.
Sheikh Mohammed said he hoped the visit would “pave the way for goodness, peace and stability to prevail in Syria and the entire region”, WAM said.
The pair also discussed ways of “preserving the territorial integrity of Syria and the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country,” it added, as well as means of providing “political and humanitarian support for Syria”.
Photographs released by the Syrian presidency also showed Assad meeting with Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum during the one-day visit.
Syria’s economy has been battered by a decade of conflict and gruelling sanctions.
The Arab League suspended Syria after the conflict broke out 11 years ago.
In November last year, the UAE’s top diplomat met Assad in Damascus for the first time since Syria’s war began, a move that triggered US denunciations of efforts to normalise ties with a “dictator”.
About half a million people have died and millions have been displaced since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, after nationwide protests against the government were met with a brutal crackdown.
It escalated into a devastating and complex war that drew in numerous actors including jihadist groups and regional and international powers.
Earlier this month, the UN commission for inquiry on Syria called for “a review of the implementation and impacts of sanctions currently imposed on Syria” in light of deteriorating living conditions.
But on Tuesday, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States said in a joint statement that they do “not support efforts to normalise relations with the Assad regime”.
The statement was made to commemorate 11 years since the start of the anti-government uprising in Syria, which was marked by thousands of protesters in Syria’s rebel enclave of Idlib.