Syrian Leader Assad Attends Arab League Summit After Years of Isolation

Syrian President Bashar Assad attended his first summit since the 22-member league suspended his country over the brutal crackdown on protesters that led to civil war in 2011.

Syrian President Bashar Assad addressed a gathering of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Friday, calling it a “historic opportunity.”

The Syrian president said that he hoped for a “new phase” in Arab coordination, more than a decade after being suspended from the bloc in 2011 as a result of his suppression of Syria’s anti-government protests that spiraled into a protracted civil war.

Assad called for “Arab solidarity to achieve peace, development, and flourishing in our region instead of war and destruction.” He said that Arab countries should reject “external interference” in their affairs.

Saudi crown prince welcomes Assad

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a speech he was “pleased to welcome” Assad to the summit and that he hoped for “stability” in Syria.

Assad was officially invited to the summit in the western Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah last week.

Saudi Prince Badr bin Sultan, deputy governor of the shrine city Mecca, along with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and several local officials officially greeted Assad at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

Syria makes comeback from isolation

The 22-member league suspended Syria after Assad’s government cracked down brutally on mass protests against his rule.

Assad’s return to the league marks a major symbolic victory for Damascus as it moves to normalize ties with countries in the region again.

Assad’s government forces stand accused of using chemical weapons during the civil war lasting more than a decade, according to UN war crimes investigators. Syria has denied the accusations.

The Syrian civil war has killed nearly half a million people since March 2011 and displaced nearly 14 million people, or half of the country’s pre-war population.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others for years supported anti-Assad insurgent groups, but Syria’s army regained control of most of the country years ago.

What the West said about Assad and the Arab League

The US and Germany have voiced their opposition against the normalization of ties with Assad.

US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters Thursday that “we don’t support normalization with the Assad regime, and we don’t support our partners doing so.”

But Patel added the US has a “number of shared objectives” such as bringing home Austin Tice, a former US Marine and journalist who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012.

This article was originally published on DW.