King Abdullah to meet Assad in Damascas

For the first time since the 2005 assassination of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri, in which three Syrian secret agents have been implicated, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will meet President Bashar al-Assad in Syria this week.


AFP - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is to visit Syria this week to meet President Bashar al-Assad, in a further sign of warming ties between the two Arab states, the royal court announced on Monday.

The announcement carried by the official Saudi news agency SPA said Abdullah would travel to Syria "in the coming days" without giving a date.

Abdullah's trip confirms the improving ties between Damascus and Riyadh, long rivals for influence in the Arab world whose relations soured after the allegedly Syrian-linked 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.

Hariri, who also held Saudi nationality, was close to the monarchy in the oil-rich Gulf state and had extensive business interests in the kingdom.

Riyadh has likewise been at odds with Damascus over its warm relations with Saudi Arabia's rival Iran and its support for Lebanon's Shiite militant movement Hezbollah.

The Saudis reopened diplomatic paths with Syria after Damascus's apparent non-interference in Lebanon's general election in June, after which Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, was designated as prime minister to try to form a government.

In early July, Riyadh named a new ambassador to Syria after leaving the post vacant for a year and a visit to Damascus by Abdullah has been in the works since that time, according to officials.

But Assad moved first, attending King Abdullah's September 23 inauguration of an international science university on the Saudi Red Sea coast, honouring a project seen as a keystone of the Saudi monarch's modernisation efforts.

A Palestinian official said earlier on Monday that Syria had postponed a visit to Damascus by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas due to begin on Tuesday because of a surprise visit by King Abdullah.

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