By Aidan Lewis
CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt and Syria agreed to strengthen cooperation on Saturday during the first official visit by a Syrian foreign minister to Cairo in more than a decade, the latest sign of Arab states mending ties with President Bashar al Assad.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was embraced by Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry as he arrived at Egypt’s foreign ministry in the first official trip since before the uprising and conflict that began in Syria in 2011.
President Assad was shunned by many Western and Arab states due to the war in Syria, which splintered the country and left hundreds of thousands of people dead.
“The ministers agreed to intensify channels of communication between the two countries at different levels during the coming phase,” a statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry said.
Egypt also reiterated its backing for a “comprehensive political settlement to the Syrian crisis as soon as possible”.
An Egyptian security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the visit was aimed at putting in place steps for Syria’s return to the Arab League through Egyptian and Saudi Arabian mediation.
The Cairo-based Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in 2011 and many Arab states pulled their envoys out of Damascus.
Some countries, including the United States and Qatar, have opposed the rehabilitation of ties with Assad, citing his government’s brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress towards a political solution in Syria.
But key regional powers including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have recently signalled increasing openness towards Damascus.
Egypt’s Shoukry visited Syria and Turkey in February after the devastating earthquakes there, and on Saturday reiterated a pledge of support for its victims.
Egypt’s foreign ministry published pictures of Shoukry warmly greeting Mekdad at the foreign ministry on the banks of the Nile, as well as in one-on-one talks and leading a wider discussion.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis, Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Maya Gebeily in Beirut and Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Editing by Alexander Smith)
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Source: The Print