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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Syrian sovereignty is a top priority at Arab League

As foreign powers intervene in the region's affairs, establishing consensus is of vital importance

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi,and Jordan's King Abdullah II, pose for a group photograph with other Arab leaders during the 30th Arab League summit inTunis. AFP
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi,and Jordan's King Abdullah II, pose for a group photograph with other Arab leaders during the 30th Arab League summit inTunis. AFP

eaders from across the region came together at the Arab League Summit in Tunis on Sunday to reaffirm the need for more consensus. There, they rejected America’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. The Syrian land has been occupied since the 1967 War, in violation of international law and UN resolutions. “We need to stress our categorical rejection to all procedures that strain Syrian sovereignty to the Golan Heights and we stress the importance of sorting the Syrian crisis,” said King Salman of Saudi Arabia. His words resonate now more than ever, amid continued efforts towards ending the war and as the tasks of political transition and reconstruction get under way.

In this show of unity, Arab states are not tacitly endorsing the regime of Bashar Al Assad, but reclaiming Syria as an Arab challenge. Ousted in 2011 after a violent crackdown on protesters, Damascus has yet to be readmitted to the League. But as the country emerges from an eight-year war, Arab states have a crucial role to play in facilitating dialogue, promoting peace and curbing the self-serving influence of powers such as Russia, Iran and Turkey in the region. “It was a mistake to kick Syria out of the Arab League,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, told The National in June. “It meant we had no political leverage at all, no open channel.”

The impetus that united 22 Arab states over the issue of Syrian sovereignty can help settle other pressing regional matters, such as ongoing conflict in Yemen and Libya, and the future of the Palestinian state. US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights came less than a year after the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem, recognising the divided city as ­Israel’s capital. Acts such as these have sparked concern for the territorial integrity of Arab nations. There are fears that other occupied territories, such as the Lebanese Shebaa Farms and the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, might face the same fate as the Golan Heights. The Arab world has a role to play in preserving the sovereignty of its member states. Meanwhile, it is important to reaffirm, with the eyes of the world on Tunisia, the region’s unflinching support for the Palestinian cause.

On Sunday, Arab leaders agreed to seek a UN Security Council resolution against the US move, a clear statement of intent. In the months to come, the role of the UN will be important to efforts to guarantee Syria’s sovereignty. Ahead of the next Arab League summit, the decision of whether or not to readmit Syria is just one of many challenges. But only through co-operation can the region’s leaders work towards peace and stability.

Updated: April 1, 2019 06:37 PM

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