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First Syrian jet in over a decade transports Muslim worshippers to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage

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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — For the first time in over a decade, 270 Syrians traveled on a direct flight early Tuesday from Damascus to Saudi Arabia for the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage, the Syrian Transportation Ministry said.

The development is part of an ongoing thaw in relations between Damascus and Riyadh, which days ago appointed Saudi Arabia’s first ambassador to war-torn Syria since severing ties in 2012.

Syria was readmitted to the 22-member Arab League in 2023, after it had been suspended from the group for more than a decade over President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in 2011. Most countries in the Arab world have since restored diplomatic ties with Damascus.

A second plane of pilgrims is set to depart from Damascus to Jeddah late Tuesday, the ministry said.

1.8 million Muslims from around the world took part in last year’s Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, making it one of the world’s largest religious gatherings. This year, it’s scheduled to begin on the evening of June 14.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Muslims are required to undertake it at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.

The uprising-turned-civil war in Syria, now in its 14th year has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million. The war has largely remained frozen and so have the efforts to find a viable political solution to end it. Poverty is rampant across the front lines, with aid dwindling and a growing number of countries sounding the alarm on surging migration.


Associated Press writer Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

Associated Press