Syria's Assad meets senior Arab lawmakers in Damascus

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - A delegation of senior Arab parliamentarians met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Sunday, another sign of thawing ties after more than a decade of isolation over the conflict in Syria.

The heads of the Iraqi, Jordanian, Palestinian, Libyan, Egyptian and Emirati houses of representatives, as well as representatives from Oman and Lebanon, traveled to Syria as part of a delegation from the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union.

They met with Syrian parliamentarians and with Assad, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.

"We cannot do without Syria and Syria cannot do without its Arab environment, which we hope it can return to," said Iraqi parliament speaker Mohammed Halbousi.

Syria was largely isolated from the rest of the Arab world following Assad's deadly crackdown against protests that erupted against his rule in 2011.

The Arab League suspended Syria's membership in 2011 and many Arab countries pulled their envoys out of Damascus.

But Assad has benefited from an outpouring of support from Arab states following the devastating earthquake on Feb. 6, which killed more than 5,900 people across his country, according to a tally of U.N. and Syrian government figures.

Donors have included Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which both supported rebels seeking to overthrow Assad in the early years of the Syrian conflict.

Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi spoke with Assad by phone for the first time on Feb. 7 and Jordan's foreign minister made his first trip to Damascus on Feb. 15.

Assad then traveled to Oman on Feb. 20 - the first time he left Syria since the quake.

He had rarely left Syria during the war, travelling only to close allies Russia and Iran whose military support helped him turn the tide of the conflict.

Assad's 2022 visit to the UAE was his first trip to an Arab state since the 2011 outbreak of war.

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Christina Fincher)