Egypt's foreign minister met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday in the first visits to Syria and Turkey by a top Egyptian diplomat in a decade.
Assad has benefited from an outpouring of Arab support since devastating earthquakes hit his country and neighbouring Turkey this month, helping to ease the diplomatic isolation he has faced over Syria's civil war which began in 2011.
"The goal of the visit is primarily humanitarian, and to pass on our solidarity – from the leadership, the government and the people of Egypt to the people of Syria," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters in Damascus.
Later on Monday, Shoukry also said in remarks to local Egyptian television channel, Ten, that the visit indicates a willingness to turn over a new leaf with both countries. The visit "reflects the interest for relations between Egypt and the two countries return to their normal status," he said.
Egypt was looking forward to providing more quake assistance “in full coordination with the Syrian government” after already having donated some 1,500 tonnes, Shoukry added, standing alongside Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
"When the foreign minister of Egypt comes to Damascus, he comes to his home, his people, and his country," Mekdad said.
The earthquake killed more than 5,900 people in Syria, the bulk of them in the rebel-held northwest. In Turkey, the death toll stands at more than 44,000.
The Arab League suspended Syria in 2011 over the government's deadly crackdown on protests, and many U.S.-allied Arab states backed the opposition seeking to topple Assad.
But a number of Arab states, most prominently the United Arab Emirates, have shifted approach towards normalising ties in recent years, after Assad defeated his insurgent enemies across much of the country helped by Iran and Russia.
Shoukry did not respond to reporters' questions on whether Egypt would support lifting the Arab League's suspension of Syria.
DIALOGUE WITH DAMASCUS
Ties between Syria and Egypt were briefly cut during the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohamed Mursi.
Egypt reopened its embassy in Syria in 2013 after the army removed Mursi from power, but kept Assad at arm's length. Shoukry met Mekdad in 2021 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Following the quake, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke with Assad by phone for the first time and on Sunday a delegation of parliamentarians from around the region, including Egypt's parliament speaker, met Assad in Damascus.
Washington has voiced opposition to any moves towards rehabilitating or normalising ties with Assad, citing his government's brutality during the conflict and the need to see progress towards a political solution.
Saudi Arabia, which remains at odds with Assad, has said consensus was building in the Arab world that isolating Syria was not working and that dialogue with Damascus was needed at some point to at least address humanitarian issues.
Shoukry also visited Turkey, pointing to another shift in Egypt's foreign ties. He met Cavusoglu in the southern city of Adana, which was also hit by the earthquakes.
"Foreign minister offers condolences for the victims of earthquake, affirms solidarity of Egyptian leadership, government and people with Turkey, and asserting continuity of aid for supporting Turkey and its brotherly people," Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesperson for Egypt's Foreign Ministry, said.
Turkish and Egyptian ministers later visited the port of Mersin, where an Egyptian aid ship arrived on Monday.
Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Turkey were severed in 2013 after Sisi led the overthrow of Mursi, who had enjoyed support from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party.
But a rapprochement has been under way. Erdogan and Sisi shook hands during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar - another country with which Egypt has rebuilt relations - and Turkish companies this month committed to $500 million in new investments in Egypt.
Speaking to reporters in Mersin, Cavusoglu said Erdogan and Sisi could meet again soon.
"During our talks today, we exchanged views on mutual visits in the upcoming period. Our deputy foreign ministers met twice before, and it would be beneficial for them to meet again," he said. "After our talks, our presidents can meet either in Turkey or Egypt."
Cavusoglu said in November that Turkey could re-appoint its ambassador to Cairo "in coming months."
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