Egypt's foreign minister met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday in the first visit to Damascus by a top Egyptian diplomat since the civil war began in 2011, in another sign of warming ties between Assad and Arab states that once shunned him.
Assad has benefited from an outpouring of Arab support since devastating earthquakes hit his country and neighbouring Turkey earlier this month, helping him ease the diplomatic isolation he has faced over the conflict.
"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.
Egypt was looking forward to providing more quake assistance “in full coordination with the Syrian government,” after already having donated some 1,500 tonnes so far, 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 US-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.
Ties between Syria and Egypt were briefly cut during the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt reopened its embassy in Syria in 2013 after the army removed Morsi 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 is also due to visit to Turkey on Monday, pointing to another shift in Egypt's foreign ties.
Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Turkey were severed after Sisi led the overthrow of Mursi, who had enjoyed support from Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party during his short-lived presidency.
Erdogan and Sisi met and shook hands during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – another country with which Egypt has rebuilt relations – and Turkish companies earlier this month committed to US$500 million (RM2.2 billion) in new investments in Egypt.