Assad meets UAE foreign minister in Damascus: Report

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Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday thanked the United Arab Emirates for its emergency response and tens of millions pledged in aid to the quake-hit country, the presidency said.

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“The UAE was among the first countries that stood with Syria and sent huge relief and humanitarian aid and search and rescue teams,” Assad said during a meeting in Damascus with Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Sheikh Abdullah arrived in Syria on Sunday, six days after a devastating earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, killing more than 33,000 people in total, including over 3,500 in Syria alone.

His visit is the first by a senior Gulf official since the 7.8-magnitude quake hit.

The UAE minister last visited Damascus in January, when he also met Assad, one a trip that signaled warming ties with war-torn Syria after years of strained relations.

The UAE pledged some $13.6 million to Syria after the disaster before announcing another $50 million in assistance.

The oil-rich Gulf nation has dispatched planes to Turkey and Syria with emergency aid, food, medical supplies and rescue teams.

“Sixteen Emirati planes have arrived in Syria since the earthquake hit,” said Suleiman Khalil, an official at Syria’s transport ministry.

“Around the clock, Emirati planes have been providing an air bridge for those affected by the earthquake.”

The Emirati search and rescue team has been based in the Syrian coastal city of Jableh since Friday, where they have set up a base camp. They have worked at several locations, scouring the rubble for survivors and remains of the dead.

Ties between Damascus and Abu Dhabi were strained after the Syrian civil war broke out more than a decade ago. Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League over the bloodshed.

The UAE reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December 2018, suggesting an effort to bring Assad’s regime back into the Arab fold after years of boycott.

Last March, Assad made a visit to the UAE, his first to an Arab state in more than a decade.

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