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Karim Traboulsi

Dictator rehab: Tunisia, Egypt 'discuss inviting Assad' to Arab League summit

Growing signs Assad is going to be rehabilitated in the region despite his record [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 January, 2019

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Last month, Tunisia denied reports that it was would hold talks on inviting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to an Arab League summit in March next year.

Tunisia and Egypt are in talks over inviting Bashar al-Assad to attend an Arab League summit in March in Tunis, senior diplomatic sources told The New Arab's Arabic edition, amid increasing regional and international moves to rehabilitate the Syrian dictator despite his brutal record in his country's civil war.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday concluding a series of meetings with Egyptian officials to discuss the matter, the sources said.

"The Tunisian minister's visit to Cairo comes at the request of the Egyptian side to settle the issue of the Assad regime's participation in the 33rd Arab summit and discuss ways to implement this after the approval of other Arab states," the sources said.

"This would come after Syria makes certain pledges," they added.

According to observers, this could be promises about containing Iranian presence in Syria, which a number of Gulf Arab states are keen to counter; and accepting the deployment of pan-Arab forces to replace US forces in some parts of Syria, according to the sources.

Reports in Arabic media suggest that an Arab League meeting on Sunday will discuss the issue of normalising ties with the Assad regime.

Last month, Tunisia denied reports that it was would hold talks on inviting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab League summit in March.

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

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, even as a number of Arab countries including Egypt and the UAE continued to have covert relations with Assad.

Sudan's embattled leader Omar al-Bashir visited Damascus last month, a move followed shortly by the UAE reopening its embassy in the Syrian capital and Bahrain resuming diplomatic ties with the Assad regime.

Reports also suggest Iraq and Mauritania's leaders could visit Damascus soon, as Western capitals signal Assad is here to stay.

The Syrian war began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, 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.

At least tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

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

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