The 29th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League Council kicked off on Sunday in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, after the US, the UK, and France launched on Saturday more than 100 missiles against what they say were Syrian chemical weapons facilities in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb Douma a week ago, which killed more than 50 people, according to the White Helmets (Syria Civil Defence).
The Syrian crisis is among the subjects expected to be discussed by Arab leaders, along with several regional issues, including the Palestinian issue, particularly Jerusalem; the situations in Libya and Yemen; and combating extremism in the region. Commenting on the American, French, and British missiles on Syria, Iraq called on Arab leaders to “take a clear position” about Syria during the summit, while Amr Moussa, a former secretary general of the Arab League, said that the message sent that the strikes were launched in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians was contradictory as he said the move has no real effect.
Since 2011, after the Arab Spring led to the toppling of the most autocratic Arab leaders, the situation in Syria continues to escalate and has further complicated along the seven years it has flared, turning to a devastating civil war between different parts in the country, including the Syrian Army, anti-government rebels, and the Islamic State group (IS). The conflict also includes external parties: Russia and Iran support the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the US back the opposition. Other western countries, including France and the UK, have also provided some support to what they describe as “moderate” rebels.
The Arab League has held several summits to discuss the situation Syria over the past seven years, repeatedly refusing foreign interference and military intervention in the region, particularly in Syria, as well as insisting that a political solution is the only way to end the conflict and achieve the Syrian people’s potentials and hopes for freedom. However, the conflict has been ever-intensifying, with new fronts opening up as others wind down, leading to the killing of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the displacement of millions fleeing the conflict.
In November 2011, Arab foreign ministers decided, at an urgent meeting, the suspension of Syria’s membership in the Arab League, the imposition of political and economic sanctions on Damascus, and called on the Syrian government to cease using violence against anti-regime factions.
Moreover, an Arab League summit in Baghdad in 2012 condemned the dangerous violations of human rights in Syria and called for dialogue between the Syrian regime and the opposition to end the conflict. It also demanded the immediate cessation of killing and violence, in addition to protecting Syrian civilians. It also urgedabstention from military intervention into the war-torn country.
Additionally, at an Arab League summit in Doha in March 2013, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (known as the Syrian National Coalition) was recognised as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. The summit condemned the “dangerous” military escalation by Syrian regime forces against civilians, as well as the violence and mass murder against them in most Syrian territories. The summit further asked all regional and international institutions to provide all forms of assistance and support to enable Syrians to defend themselves and continue their struggle for justice and rule of law in their country.
Meanwhile, a summit in Kuwait in 2014 invited the Syrian National Coalition to address the summit as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to occupy the country’s seat at the Arab League, without mentioning that it would be the sole representative. It also called on the United Nation Security Council to take its responsibility in solving the crisis in Syria and to tackle the freezing of talks between opposition delegations and the Syrian government, in order to reach a political resolution, as well to formulate a transnational governance body with executive powers.
Also, a summit in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2015 asked the UN Security Council to take responsibility towards the escalating crisis in Syria, while expressing the league’s deep concern towards the severe impact that targeted the future, security, and stability of Syria.
During a summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania in 2016, in the absence of nearly half of the Arab leaders, Arab opposition parties, particularity in Yemen and Syria, were invited to resolve their issues peacefully, in order to avoid any external interventions.
A summit in the Dead Sea, Jordan in 2017 suggested the necessity of finding a political solution to end the conflict in Syria and prioritising the unity and territorial integrity of the country. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi insisted in his address at the summit that a “political solution is the only avenue to achieve the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and restore the unity of their country.” He also added that Syria witnesses an “unprecedented foreign interference” in its own affairs and in the future of the Syrian people.