Syrian security head Ali Mamlouk made a rare visit to Cairo over weekend to meet with his Egyptian counterpart, state news agency SANA has reported.
The surprise trip reportedly came at the invitation of Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, with the two diplomats discussing “political, security and counterterrorism issues”.
Mamlouk, who is considered to be a member of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s inner circle, last visited Egypt in 2016; security relations between the two countries had persevered despite Syria facing a boycott from most other Arab nations.
The Air Force intelligence head is accused of perpetrating numerous crimes against civilians; in 2011, the US government imposed sanctions on Mamlouk holding him responsible for scores of human rights abuses. His nationally feared agency operates hundreds of detention centres and prisons across the country, where thousands face torture and execution.
Last month, France also issued an arrest warrant against Mamlouk, accusing him of “complicity in acts of torture, complicity in enforced disappearances, complicity in crimes against humanity, and war crimes” as well as playing a role in the deaths of two French-Syrian citizens.
Mamlouk’s trip to Egypt comes just one week after Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir visited Al-Assad in Damascus – the first state visit of any Arab leader since the war broke out in 2011. Whilst the reason for Al-Bashir’s trip was not disclosed, it is one of many recent diplomatic efforts made by fellow Arab government to mend ties with the Assad regime as the Syrian war winds down.
Last week, diplomatic sources revealed that Algerian authorities are interested in inviting President Al-Assad to attend the Arab League summit scheduled to take place in March next year, seven years after Syria’s was suspended from the 22-member body.
In October, President Al-Assad also told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility, adding that Arab and Western delegations had started to visit the country to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic missions.
The Syrian foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart had also turned heads in September after they greeted each other with a hug on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The encounter raised questions about whether the Gulf countries, most of them sworn enemies of Al-Assad ally Iran, are reconsidering their relations with Syria.
The US has also changed its stance on the Syrian regime; last week US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey said that Washington is not looking for a “regime change” in Syria, but rather a “different” government, contradicting previous statements that had called for the removal of President Assad.