UAE Charge D'affaires Abdul Hakim Naimi visits embassy in Damascus and tells reporters that, "The opening of our embassy is a first step for the return of other Arab embassies."

General view shows Damascus, Syria, September 15, 2018.
General view shows Damascus, Syria, September 15, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

The United Arab Emirates is to reopen its embassy in Damascus on Thursday that had been shut since the early months of Syria's conflict, which erupted in 2011.

The UAE's state news agency reported that the re-opening of the embassy was aimed at normalising relations between both the countries.

The UAE does not have an ambassador to Syria yet but on Thursday afternoon, its Charge D'affaires Abdul Hakim Naimi visited the embassy in central Damascus and told reporters outside the compound that, "The opening of our embassy is a first step for the return of other Arab embassies."

Rumours of the Emirati embassy reopening had circulated in recent days as renovation work was spotted getting under way at the building.

The United Arab Emirates was one of several regional Arab states that backed opposition forces in the Syrian conflict.

Earlier this month, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir became the first Arab head of state to visit Damascus since the start of the Syrian conflict, flying into Damascus airport.

The border crossing between Syria and Jordan, another US-ally that backed the opposition forces, was reopened in October.

In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a "major understanding" with Arab states after years of hostility.

He did not name the Arab countries in the interview, which was his first with a Gulf paper since the war erupted, but said Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.

The interview came on the heels of a surprisingly warm meeting between the Syrian regime's foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. The meeting turned heads because it featured hugs between the two ministers.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League in November 2011, as the death toll was escalating. The conflict has now killed more than 360,000 people.

Assad's seat at the helm, which he inherited from his father in 2000, appeared to be hanging by a thread until Russia's 2015 military intervention turned things around.

Regime forces and allied militia have since steadily regained significant ground. They now firmly control the Damascus region and several key trade routes in the country.

The past few days have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity that looks set to continue until the next summit of the Arab League, due in Tunis in March.

An Arab diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters last week he believed a majority wanted Syria to return to the League - with only three or four states expected to oppose this - but there had been no official proposal yet.

Arab state support was funnelled to Syrian opposition forces through a programme overseen by the US Central Intelligence Agency until President Donald Trump ordered it shut down last year. Trump also last week decided to withdraw US forces that are deployed in areas of northern and eastern Syria in support of the YPG-dominated SDF.

The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, that is recognised as a terrorist group by the EU, US and Turkey.  Ever since its founding in 1984, the PKK has waged an armed campaign against the Turkish state, leading to at least 40,000 deaths, mostly civilians. 

Source: Reuters