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UAE reopens its embassy in Syria, after 6 years of suspension

The United Arab Emirates has resumed its diplomatic services at its embassy in Damascus in Syria after six years of suspension. The move signals a thaw in the relations between the two countries, as also with the Arab world.

Dec 28, 2018 19:53 IST
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The United Arab Emirates on December 27, 2018 resumed its diplomatic services at its embassy in Damascus in Syria after six years of suspension. The move signals a thaw in the relations between the two countries, as also with the Arab world.

The Charge d'Affaires of the UAE Embassy began discharging his duty on December 27, 2018. The decision follows a careful reading of the latest developments and a conviction that the next phase requires Arab involvement to protect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Following suit is Bahrain, as the nation announced on December 28, 2018 that it will resume operations at its embassy in Syria, reflecting new efforts by Gulf Arab states to improve relations with President Bashar Assad as the civil war cools down.

The UAE had closed its Embassy in the early years of the Syrian conflict.

Significance

The UAE Ministry said in a statement that the move underscores the UAE government’s keenness to restore relations between the two brotherly countries to their normal course.

The resumption of relations will enhance and implement the Arab role in supporting the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.  It will also prevent the dangers of regional interference in Syrian affairs.

Why did UAE close its embassy in Syria?

Till almost a decade back, both Syria and UAE shared a friendly bilateral relationship. In fact, the leaders of the two nations, Syria’s Bashar Al Assad and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa shared a highly cordial relationship.

Bashar Al Assad also shared a warm relation with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
Around the time, trade between the two countries was valued at about $254 million and was only expected to increase.

However, the political landscape across the Middle East changed with the beginning of Syrian uprising in 2011.

The UAE was among the several countries that chose to recall their ambassadors and close their embassies in Damascus, as the crisis worsened and security deteriorated in Syria.

Syrian Civil War

In March 2011, pro-democracy demonstrations grown out of discontent with the Assad government erupted in the southern Syrian city of Deraa, inspired by the "Arab Spring" in neighbouring countries.

The Syrian Government responded aggressively and the army of President Bashar al-Assad opened fire on the protestors, killing four people.

At first, the protesters just wanted democracy and greater freedom but after the government forces opened fire on peaceful demonstrations, people began demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad.

However, Assad only hardened his resolve and by July 2011 the Syrian uprising had developed into a full-fledged civil war.

  UAE reopens its embassy in Syria, after 6 years of suspension

Currently, it is a multi-sided armed conflict being fought between the Ba'athist Syrian Arab Republic led by President Bashar al-Assad, along with domestic and foreign allies and various domestic and foreign forces opposing both the government and each other in varying combinations.

The armed conflict has grown so huge that a number of countries in the region and beyond are involved either directly or providing support to one or another faction.

While Iran and Russia have shown support to the Syrian Armed Forces led by President Bashar al-Assad, the US-led international coalition has targeted the Syrian government and pro-government forces.

Turkey also became deeply involved since 2016, actively supporting the Syrian opposition and occupying large swaths of north-western Syria.

The international organisations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL, opposition rebel groups, and the US-led coalition of severe human rights violations and massacres.

The armed conflict has caused a major refugee crisis, with many Syrians including women and young children attempting to flee the country through land and water routes and many dying as a result.

UAE’s relations with Syria during civil war

  • Despite the outbreak of the war, Syrian consular services continued to operate in the UAE, indicating relations were not completely cut off.
  • UAE also showed its dedication to support the Syrians and their aspirations to return security and stability to their country. However, the nation made it clear that it did not support Assad’s government.
  • Despite this, the UAE remained steadfast in its humanitarian support for the Syrian people. Since 2012, it has provided more than $530m in humanitarian aid and development assistance.
  • In 2018, the UAE’s political perspective on Syria began to change and the nation’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Anwar Gargash, said that it was no longer possible to stabilise the country with a military response.
  • While many countries had previously stated that there would be no end to the Syrian conflict if Al Assad remained in power, reopening the UAE embassy in Damascus, with more countries expected to follow suit, shows that governments have accepted that the Assad regime is here to stay.

Background

At the beginning of the civil war, Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar had backed the Sunni fighters battling Assad's forces.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League in 2011 and the Arab countries sanctioned the nation and condemned its use of military force against civilians.

In October 2018, President Assad had revealed that Syria had reached a "major understanding" with Arab states after years of hostility. He had said that Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.

Recently, US President Donald Trump announced his intention of withdrawing the US troops from Syria. Trump also cut funding to the nation.

However, Saudi Arabia has come forward and pledged around $100 million to help in the reconstruction of the war-torn nation.

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