Egypt’s top diplomat in Damascus, meets with Syria’s Assad

BEIRUT (Agencies): Egypt’s foreign minister arrived in Damascus on Monday, the first visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to Syria since its civil war began in 2011 and another sign of warming ties between President Bashar Assad and Arab states that once shunned him.

Assad has benefited from an outpouring of Arab support for Syria since a Feb. 6 earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkiye and neighboring Syria.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was received at Damascus airport by his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad, according to the Syrian state news agency (SANA) and a tweet by Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesperson.

An Egyptian foreign ministry statement on Sunday said Shoukry would “convey a message of solidarity from Egypt” during visits to both Syria and Turkiye on Monday.

Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi spoke with Assad by phone for the first time on Feb. 7 and on Sunday a delegation of top parliamentarians from around the region — including Egypt’s parliament speaker — met Assad in Damascus.

Following the earthquake, the foreign minister of Jordan, which once backed the Syrian opposition, has also visited Damascus for the first time since the civil war began.

Assad had been isolated by regional states over the government’s crackdown on protests in 2011 and the Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in 2011.

The United Arab Emirates, which began normalizing ties with Assad several years ago has poured aid into Syria since the earthquake.

Washington has voiced opposition to any moves toward rehabilitating or normalizing ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress toward a political solution.

The earthquake killed at least 5,900 people in Syria, the bulk of them in the rebel-held northwest.

Shoukry’s visit to Turkiye underlines a thaw in Egypt’s ties with Ankara.

Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Turkiye were severed after El-Sisi, then army chief, led the 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, who had enjoyed Turkish support during his short-lived presidency.