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War criminals unite: Assad greets Sudan's al-Bashir in Damascus

Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Syria's Bashar al-Assad meet at Damascus airport [SANA/AP]

Date of publication: 17 December, 2018

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Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on Sunday became the first Arab leader to visit Syria since the war began almost eight years ago.
Sudan's president on Sunday became the first Arab leader to visit Syria since the war began there nearly eight years ago.

Omar al-Bashir was greeted at the Damascus airport by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before they both headed to the presidential palace.

The two leaders held talks on bilateral relations and the latest developments in Syria and the region, according to the state-run news agency SANA.

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League soon after war broke out in 2011. Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned Assad for using overwhelming military force and failing to negotiate with the opposition.

The reason for al-Bashir's visit was not immediately clear. But as troops loyal to Assad's regime recapture key cities and population centres, some Arab officials have expressed interest in exploring the restoration of ties.

In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a "major understanding" with Arab states after years of hostility.

He did not name the Arab countries in the interview, which was his first with a Gulf paper since the war erupted, but he said Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.

The interview came on the heels of a surprisingly warm embrace between the Syrian foreign minister and his Bahraini counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September in New York. 

The encounter raised questions about whether the Gulf countries, most of them sworn enemies of Assad ally Iran, are reconsidering their relations with Syria.

The Syrian state news agency SANA quoted the Sudanese president as saying during the meeting with Assad that he hopes Syria will recover its important role in the region as soon as possible.

He also affirmed Sudan's readiness to provide all that it can to support Syria's territorial integrity.

Syrian state news said Assad thanked Bashir for his visit, asserting that it will give strong momentum for restoring relations between the two countries "to the way it was before the war on Syria".

SANA showed the two leaders shaking hands at the airport in front of a Russian plane that appears to have brought al-Bashir to Syria. Russia, a key ally of Assad, maintains an airbase southeast of the Syrian city of Latakia.

Bashir has been Sudan's leader since 1989 and is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands to face war crimes charges stemming from a conflict in his own country.

The Syrian war began in 2011 when the Baath regime, in power since 1963, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by Assad's regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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