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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 16 August 2018

Syria and Iran to dominate Arab League summit

Leaders of 22-member body – without suspended Syria – also expected to take hard line on US decision to recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel

Arab leaders – except Syrian President Bashar Al Assad – will today meet in Saudi Arabia for a summit as world powers face off over Syria and tensions between Riyadh and Tehran rise .

Saudi Arabia is pushing for a tough, unified stance against Iran at the annual gathering of the 22-member Arab League.

The two countries support opposing sides of the war in Syria and in Saudi Arabia's southern neighbour, Yemen. They also back opposing parties in Iraq and Lebanon.

The summit begins 24 hours after the US, France and Britain launched air strikes in war-torn Syria in response to a chemical attack on the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta last week.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which both voiced support for the strikes, remain locked in a months-long diplomatic standoff. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut all ties with Doha last year over its support of extremists.

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In 2011, the Arab League suspended Syria's membership over the Al Assad government's role in the war. Syria remains suspended from the organisation.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia will chair Sunday's summit in the eastern city of Dhahran, home to Saudi Arabia's oil giant Aramco and 160 kilometres across the Gulf from Iran.

Syria's war, the most complex of the region's conflicts, is the main point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies against Syrian regime backer Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia on Saturday declared its full support for US-led air raids on Syria, which the Pentagon said had "successfully hit every target".

Gulf Arab states have made great relief donations to Syria but have not officially offered asylum to Syrians.

Despite widespread Arab condemnation of the chemical attack, suspected to have been carried out by Mr Al Assad's regime, the Dhahran summit is unlikely to call for the Syrian president to step down.

Seven years into a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of peoplelives, Saudi Arabia and Iran now agree that the country's future cannot be decided solely by the Syrian government, whose troops have regained the upper hand with military support from Russia.

Meanwhile, the question of Jerusalem is also likely to figure prominently at the summit as the US prepares to move its embassy there from Tel Aviv after declaring the disputed city the capital of Israel in a break with decades of international diplomacy.

Arab ministers at a preliminary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday focused heavily on blocking the move, unanimously condemning the decision by US President Donald Trump.

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