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Bahrain affirms embassy in ‘brotherly’ Syria is operational

December 28, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa [U.S. Department of State/Wikipedia]

Bahrain’s embassy in Damascus and the Syrian diplomatic mission in Manama have been operating “without interruption” the Bahraini foreign ministry said in a statement today, a day after the UAE reopened its embassy in Syria.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain has announced that work is continuing at its embassy in the brotherly Arab Republic of Syria,” state news agency BNA said in a statement, adding that flights had also been operating between the two countries without interruption.

The statement did not elaborate on whether these were recent developments or if ties had been maintained throughout the war. Most Gulf Arab states — including Saudi Arabia, with which Bahrain is closely aligned — broke off diplomatic ties after Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011.

The news comes after the UAE announced that it would be reopening its embassy in Damascus marking another significant diplomatic boost for President Bashar Al-Assad. A foreign ministry statement said the move aimed to normalise ties and to curb risks of regional interference in “Arab, Syrian affairs” – an apparent reference to non-Arab Iran, whose support for Al-Assad has been critical to his war effort.

Arab states have sped up reconciliation efforts with the Syrian regime in recent months, as the government seems to emerge as the victor of the eight-year conflict. Yesterday, Tunisia resumed direct flights with Damascus, with some 150 Syrian tourists welcomed at the airport by supporters of President Al-Assad.

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Earlier this week notorious Syrian security head Ali Mamlouk also made a rare visit to Cairo to meet with his Egyptian counterpart, where the two diplomats reportedly discussed “political, security and counterterrorism issues”.

The visit came 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. In a statement, Al-Bashir affirmed the importance of Syria’s sovereignty under its “legitimate leadership”.

Last week, anonymous diplomats also told Reuters that the majority of states want Syria to return to the Arab League at the next summit in March next year, with only three or four expected to oppose this. The meeting, set to take place in Tunisia, would see the Assad government officially welcomed back into the fold.

In October, President Al-Assad 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. A week later, the Nassib border crossing between Jordan and Syria officially opened to civilians and trade for the first time since it was closed three years ago.

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 war in Syria has killed more than 560,000 people, the vast majority by regime-allied forces. The Al-Assad government has used chemical weapons against civilians on scores of occasions, with tens of thousands in prison facing torture and execution. Despite the regime calling for refugees to return to the country, over one million people are still listed as wanted on government databases, with those refugees who supported the opposition fearing state reprisals.

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