The visit is seen as the latest sign of warming ties between Syria and the UAE as Gulf countries move to normalise the Assad regime, which is sanctioned by the West.

Arab and Western countries generally blamed Assad for the deadly crackdown on protests that erupted in 2011.
Arab and Western countries generally blamed Assad for the deadly crackdown on protests that erupted in 2011. (Reuters)

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has met with Syria’s widely shunned regime leader Bashar al Assad in Damascus.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan's visit on Tuesday is the first by a UAE foreign minister since Syria's conflict began a decade ago and comes as some Arab countries are improving relations with Syria.

During the meeting, the foreign minister "underlined the UAE's keenness on ensuring the security, stability and unity of Syria," according to UAE state media.

He also expressed "support for all efforts made to end the Syrian crisis, consolidate stability in the country and meet the aspirations of the Syrian people," the official WAM news agency reported.

Once a supporter of the Syrian opposition, the UAE has been slowly mending ties with Damascus.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League and boycotted by its neighbours since its civil war erupted in 2011. 

READ MORE: Jordan makes a U-turn to reintegrate Syria into the regional fold 

READ MORE: Amid embassy reopenings in Syria, EU says normalisation is not the case

Deadly civil war

The war in Syria began in 2011 after Assad's deadly crackdown on dissidents turned protests into a full-blown civil war.

It has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced half the country's population. 

Large parts of the country are destroyed and reconstruction would cost tens of billions of dollars.

Several Gulf countries, many of them at odds with Iran, have also sought warmer ties with Damascus, hoping to peel it away from Tehran. 

Russia and Iran's backing of Assad in the conflict has helped him tip the balance of power in his favour, leaving insurgents confined to a small part of the country's northwest.

READ MORE: Normalising Bashar al Assad as a counter to Iran is a fool's errand

READ MORE: US: No plans to normalise or upgrade diplomatic ties with Syrian regime

Source: TRTWorld and agencies