Cairo – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to offer support after a devastating earthquake, their offices announced, in the first official exchange between the two leaders.
Sisi later spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Cairo said, in one of their first diplomatic contacts under a recent rapprochement.
Ahmed Fahmy, spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, said Sisi “expressed his sincere condolences” in separate telephone conversations in the wake of the 7.8-magnitude quake early on Monday that killed more than 6 200 people in Turkey and Syria.
In his phone call with Assad, “President Sisi reiterated Egypt’s solidarity with Syria and its brotherly people in this calamity,” Fahmy said.
Sisi “also directed that all possible aid be provided to Syria”, the spokesman added.
Syrian state news agency SANA said “President Assad thanked Egypt for this position, which reflects the fraternal relations that bind the two brotherly countries.”
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Condolences have poured in and dozens of nations have offered aid since the pre-dawn earthquake that the World Health Organization said has affected up to 23 million people.
The Egyptian and Syrian foreign ministers spoke on the phone on Monday, with Cairo promising “emergency humanitarian aid”, according to an Egyptian statement.
While Egyptian state media noted the presidents’ call was their first since Sisi assumed office in 2014, the two countries have maintained relations during Syria’s 12-year war, unlike some other Arab countries who severed ties with Damascus.
The conflict in Syria was triggered by demonstrations in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts across the region, which in Egypt toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
That same year, Syria was suspended from the Arab League.
In 2016, Cairo backed a UN resolution proposed by Russia, a key Assad ally, jeopardising Egypt’s close ties with Saudi Arabia.
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Syria’s National Security Bureau chief Ali Mamlouk made a surprise visit to Cairo shortly after, his first official visit out of the country during the war. He met his Egyptian counterpart again in Cairo in 2018.
Egypt’s official position on Syria has called for “a political solution”, steering clear of discussing the fate of Assad himself, whose departure has long been demanded by several Arab leaders.
Cairo’s relations with Ankara have been frosty since a 2013 coup that propelled Sisi to power, deposing Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and outlawing his Muslim Brotherhood, many members of which had sought refuge in Turkey.
In November, Sisi and Erdogan shook hands in Qatar, in what the Egyptian presidency heralded as a new “beginning” in their ties.
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