The Diplomatic Makeover

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Hundreds of people protested across northwestern Syria this week to denounce rapprochement efforts by some Arab nations with the government of President Bashar Assad, whose country became diplomatically isolated since the start of the Syrian civil war more than a decade ago, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Demonstrations took place in the rebel-held city of Idlib and other towns in the northwest, as well as in a number of European cities.

Protesters lambasted those nations trying to restore relations with Assad, branding them “partners in killing Syrians.” They argued that any attempt at reconciliation could only take place after Assad’s prosecution and the release of all individuals detained under his regime.

The demonstrators also insisted that displaced Syrians could not return home until Assad relinquished power.

Syria’s civil conflict began when Assad used force to crack down on peaceful anti-government demonstrations in 2011. The unrest eventually escalated into a deadly war that drew in foreign powers and global armed groups.

The conflict has left over 500,000 people dead and forced approximately half of Syria’s population to flee their homes. Millions of Syrians have fled the conflict and remain around the world, with Lebanon and Turkey hosting the largest numbers.

Initially, Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab countries severed ties with Assad’s regime, called for his removal and supported Syrian rebels.

But as Assad has reclaimed back control with the help of Iran and Russia, some Arab countries have begun seeking rapprochement with Syria. In 2018, the United Arab Emirates reestablished diplomatic ties with Damascus, and it has since been leading the charge to reintegrate Syria into the Arab fold.

Last month, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to normalize ties, paving the way for a flurry of diplomatic activity.

And last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud traveled to Damascus and met with Assad, just days after Syria’s top diplomat, Faisal Mekdad, visited Saudi Arabia.

Diplomats from nine Arab countries also convened in the Saudi city of Jeddah earlier this month to discuss ways to end Syria’s pariah status.

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