BEIRUT -- Bahrain appointed on Thursday its first ambassador to Syria in more than a decade, the island nation's state news agency reported, the latest sign of a stepped-up outreach to Damascus by Gulf Arab countries.
The decree by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa came as more Arab countries are improving relations with Damascus nearly 11 years since the outbreak of Syria's civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and destroyed large parts of the country.
Early in the conflict, Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar rushed to back Sunni fighters battling President Bashar Assad’s forces. Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League in 2011. Arab countries sanctioned Damascus and condemned its use of military force against civilians.
In recent years, however, the Syrian army has won a series of key military victories with the help of Russia and Iran.
The Bahrain News Agency said the king appointed Waheed Mubarak Sayyar as the kingdom’s “ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Syria.” The embassy of Bahrain was reopened in Damascus in 2018.
The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates visited Damascus last month and met with Assad, sending the clearest signal yet that the Arab world is willing to re-engage with Syria’s strongman.
Most Gulf countries, at odds with regional rival and Shiite powerhouse Iran, seek warmer ties with Damascus, hoping to peel it away from Tehran's influence. Iran is a traditional ally of Syria and has sent advisers and resources to back Assad during the conflict that broke out in March 2011.