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    Arab League poised to vote on restoring Syria membership

    CAIRO — Foreign ministers from Arab League member states in Cairo were poised to vote Sunday on restoring Syria’s membership to the organization after it was suspended over a decade ago.

    The meeting in the Egyptian capital took place ahead of the Arab League Summit in Saudi Arabia on May 19, where many have expected to see a partial or full return of Syria following a rapid rapprochement with regional governments since February.

    It also took place days after regional top diplomats met in Jordan to discuss a roadmap to return Syria to the Arab fold as the conflict continues to deescalate.

    Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended 12 years ago early in the uprising-turned-conflict, which has killed nearly a half million people since March 2011 and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

    The body usually attempts to make decisions by consensus, but decisions otherwise could pass with a simple majority vote.

    The Arab League has not issued a statement indicating the conditions for Syria’s return. However, experts have said that Saudi Arabia and the region have likely prioritized issues related to gridlocked United Nations-brokered political talks with opposition groups, illicit drug smuggling and refugees.

    As President Bashar Assad regained control of most of the country with the help of key allies Russia and Iran, some of the Syria’s neighbors that hosted large refugee populations took steps towards reestablishing diplomatic ties with Damascus. Meanwhile, Gulf monarchies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain reestablished ties.

    The Feb. 6 earthquake that rocked Turkey and Syria was a catalyst for further normalization across the Arab world, as well as regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran reestablishing ties in Beijing, which had backed opposing sides in the conflict.

    Though once backing opposition groups to overthrow Assad, Saudi Arabia and Syria took steps towards restoring embassies and flights between the two countries, in what experts say was a major prelude towards reinstating Syria into the Arab League.

    Jordan last week hosted regional talks that included envoys from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. They agreed on a framework, dubbed the “Jordanian initiative,” that would slowly bring Damascus back into the Arab fold. Amman’s top diplomat said the meeting was the “beginning of an Arab-led political path” for a solution to the crisis.

    There is still no clear consensus among Arab countries about Syria’s return to the Arab League. Notably, Qatar, a key backer of opposition groups, is not onboard with normalization.

    Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Sam Magdy and Noha El Hennawy contributed from Cairo.

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