Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri arrived in Syria on Monday morning for a visit of solidarity after the devastating earthquake Damascus International Airport is a confirmation of solidarity with Syria in the face of the consequences of the earthquake, according to official Syrian media. He was met at the airport by his Syrian colleague Faisal al-Mikdad.
Shukri’s visit to Syria is a stop on a tour that also includes Turkey, after relations between Cairo and both countries cooled. And Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid announced on Sunday that Shukri would visit the two countries to “convey a message of Egypt’s solidarity with the two countries and their two brotherly peoples following the catastrophe of the February 6 earthquake,” which killed about 46,000 people. Shukri will reaffirm during his meetings in Syria and Turkey, according to the statement, “Egypt’s continued readiness to provide assistance and assistance to the victims in the affected areas.”
In the aftermath of the earthquake that killed at least 3,688 Syrians, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received a flood of calls for solidarity, most notably from his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in a message that is the first of its kind between the two men since since al-Sisi came to power in Egypt in 2014. Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in mid-March 2011, relations between Cairo and Damascus have cooled, but they have not been completely broken.
Unlike other Arab countries, Egypt maintained its embassy in Damascus throughout the years of the conflict, but reduced the level of diplomatic representation and the size of its mission. The director of the General Intelligence Directorate, Major General Ali Al-Mamluk, visited Cairo in 2016, the first announced visit he made abroad since the start of the war in his country.
After the earthquake, at least 250 planes arrived at Syrian airports with humanitarian aid to the affected areas under the control of the Syrian government, including three Egyptian planes. Two warships also arrived from Egypt, each carrying 1,000 tons of humanitarian aid. Shukri’s visit came on Monday, the day after a delegation from the Union of Arab Parliaments traveled to Damascus, including Egyptian Parliament Speaker Hanafi Jabali, who was described by official Egyptian media as “the highest-ranking Egyptian official” to visit Damascus in more than a decade.
After the outbreak of the conflict, a number of Arab countries, especially the Gulf states, severed diplomatic relations with Syria and closed their embassies, the Arab League also suspended the membership of Damascus. Analysts believe that Assad may find in broad solidarity with him after the earthquake an “opportunity” to speed up the normalization of his relations with the regional environment. Signs of Arab openness towards Damascus have emerged over the past few years, from the opening of the UAE embassy in Damascus in 2018 to Assad’s visit to the UAE last March.