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Sudan's president is first Arab leader to visit Syria since crisis

FILE PHOTO - Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir walks with officials as he leaves the African Union (AU) summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, July 2, 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters

AMMAN (Reuters) - Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in the Syrian capital Damascus on Sunday, the first such visit by an Arab leader since the start of the Syrian conflict, Syrian state media said.

President Bashar al Assad welcomed him at the airport, official photos showed. Many Arab countries have shunned Assad since the conflict that began early in 2011 after protests calling for his downfall swept Syria.

State news agency SANA said later the two leaders held talks in the presidential palace about developments in the region and in Syria.

Assad was quoted as saying his country would remain committed to its “Arab identity” despite the conflict in which Syria had accused some Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, of fuelling it by arming rebels seeking to overthrow Assad’s rule.

The Arab League had suspended Syria’s seat in November 2011 in response to the Syrian government’s violent attacks on pro-democracy protests.

Although many Arab countries have closed their embassies or downgraded their ties with Damascus, there have been growing calls in the Arab world in recent months to normalize ties with Syria and give it back its seat in the Arab League.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Catherine Evans and David Evans