Syria seeks to boost Riyadh ties

Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister has visited Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, in a bid to improve relations with Saudi’s King Abdullah.

The visit on Tuesday comes ahead of an Arab League summit scheduled for late March in Qatar, amid criticism that Arab countries did not show a united front over the three week Israeli offensive on Gaza that ended in January.

Muallem would bring suggestions on how rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas could be reconciled, an Arab diplomat told the AFP news agency.

During Israel’s war, Syria was widely regarded to have supported Hamas while Saudi Arabia backed Fatah.

‘Major role’

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said: “These two countries represent two different strategic political moods in the Arab world.

“One is more accommodating to the United States and diplomacy, and one is more critical of Israel and supports resistance.

“The idea that they would come together before the summit means [the Qatar summit] might be more promising in providing a united front from the Arab League after the war on Gaza.

“Syria is a strategic player in the region with excellent relations with Iran and growing relations with Turkey … it’s clear that Syria has a major role to play in the region, notably in Lebanon and Israel and Palestine, as well as the Golan Heights .. Syria is a key player and Saudi Arabia realises that.”

Tensions high

Relations have often been tense between the two countries.

The assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, and friend of the Saudi royal family, in 2005, was widely blamed on Syria, although Damascus denied involvement.

Relations got worse during Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon against Syrian and
Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters.

Efforts at mending relations improved last month after King Abdullah called for Arab reconciliation at an Arab summit in Kuwait, where he met with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

This visit follows a trip to Damascus, the capital of Syria, earlier this month by Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz, Saudi’s intelligence chief, who also brought a message on improving relations.

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