CAIRO (AP) — Arab government representatives in Cairo voted on Sunday to return Syria to the Arab League after a 12-year suspension.
The vote in the Egyptian capital came days after regional top diplomats met in Jordan to discuss a roadmap to return Syria to the Arab fold as the conflict there continues to de-escalate, and shortly before Saudi Arabia hosts the upcoming Arab League Summit on May 19.
The decision for Syria to return also includes a commitment to ongoing dialogue with Arab governments to gradually reach a political solution to the conflict, in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254. The Arab League in the decision also set up a communications committee consisting of Saudi Arabia and Syria’s neighbors Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq to follow up on developments.
There is still no Arab consensus on normalization with Damascus. Several governments did not attend the meeting. Among the most notable absentees was Qatar, which continues to back opposition groups against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and continues to resist normalization with Damascus.
Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended 12 years ago early on in the uprising turned-conflict, which has killed nearly a half million people since March 2011 and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Samer Shoukry — in a public statement before the meeting — said only an Arab-led “political solution without foreign dictates” can end the ongoing conflict that restores Syria’s unity and stability and allows refugees and the internally displaced to return.
“The different stages of the Syrian crisis proved that it has no military solution, and that there is no victor nor defeated in this conflict,” he added.
As President Bashar Assad regained control of most of the country with the help of key allies Russia and Iran, some of the Syria’s neighbors that hosted large refugee populations took steps toward reestablishing diplomatic ties with Damascus.
Meanwhile, Gulf monarchies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain reestablished ties.
The Feb. 6 earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria was a catalyst for further normalization across the Arab world, as well as regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran reestablishing ties in Beijing, which had backed opposing sides in the conflict.
Though Saudi Arabia once backed opposition groups to overthrow Assad, the two countries took steps towards restoring embassies and flights, in what experts say was a major prelude toward reinstating Syria into the Arab League.
Jordan last week hosted regional talks that included envoys from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. They agreed on a framework, dubbed the “Jordanian initiative,” that would slowly bring Damascus back into the Arab fold. Amman’s top diplomat said the meeting was the “beginning of an Arab-led political path” for a solution to the crisis.
The conflict in Sudan is also on the agenda, as Arab governments try to stabilize a shaky ceasefire in the ongoing fighting that has killed hundreds of people over the past few weeks.