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Fearful of Iran's influence, Saudi king reaches out to Syria

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"The trip is very significant, given the negative mood that has prevailed in Syrian-Saudi relations over the last couple of years," says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst, who argues that the visit could bring peace closer between Israel and its Arab neighbors. "This is very positive news for the region."

The Syrians have laid on a lavish welcome for Abdullah, whose delegation has commandeered two of Damascus's largest hotels, in a manner that is reflective of the dramatic improvement in ties with the region's political and economic powerhouse. "Today… the Saudi king in the heart of Arabism," screamed Wednesday's morning Al-Watan newspaper, a Syrian daily, devoting its whole front page to the visit.

Stunning turnaround

After the Hariri assassination, always fragile Arab unity appeared to come apart at the seams, with close US allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt – nervous about Shiite Iran's growing regional influence – at odds with Syria, which formed a self-proclaimed resistance alliance with Iran to oppose Israel and provide support to the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2008, things were so bad that an Arab League summit in Damascus was boycotted by the Saudi and Egyptian leaders.

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