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The Egyptian Foreign Minister visits Syria for the first time in a decade


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Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry pledged solidarity with the Syrian people during his meeting with the country’s President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Monday.

The visit comes after the twin deadly earthquakes on Feb. 6 ignited a rare spark of Arab awareness for the war-torn country.

Shoukry is the most senior Egyptian official to visit Syria since 2011, a day after the Egyptian parliament speaker, Hanafi al-Gabali, and a delegation of senior Arab lawmakers visited Assad in an effort to end Syria’s political isolation.

Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 after the Assad government cracked down on mass protests against his rule – an uprising that quickly spiraled into a brutal civil war.

The conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced half of the country’s population of 23 million.

Although many Arab countries have begun to revive relations with Assad in recent years, the process has intensified after the massive earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria this month.

The earthquake killed more than 47,000 people, including more than 1,400 in government-held areas of Syria and more than 2,400 in northwestern Ras al-Mu’min. The quake has exacerbated the war-torn country’s crisis.

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are among US allies in the Middle East that have provided earthquake aid to government-held areas of Syria.

The UAE has sent more planeloads of aid than any other country, including Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran.

Shoukry told the media after his meeting with Al-Assad and his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Al-Miqdad, that Egypt has so far sent 1,500 tons of humanitarian aid.

“We will continue to provide whatever humanitarian assistance we can,” Shoukry said. When asked why relations between Cairo and Damascus have not yet normalized, he replied by saying that his visit was “first and foremost human.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke to Assad on the phone less than 48 hours after the earthquake struck, the first time the two had spoken in over a decade.

For years, many public figures in Egypt have called on the Sisi government to strengthen ties with Syria. Shoukry also urged Damascus to return to the Cairo-based Arab League.

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