For the first time in over a decade, 270 Syrians traveled on a direct flight from Damascus to Saudi Arabia for the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage on May 28, 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 departed from Damascus to Jeddah on May 29, 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 is scheduled to begin on the evening of June 14.

Syria’s protracted uprising-turned-civil war, which began as an uprising in 2011, has now entered its 14th year. Along with severely impacting the ability of Syrians to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the conflict has devastated the nation.

The total of civilian deaths has reached nearly half a million, and displaced over half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million. The civil war, which has caused widespread destruction and suffering, shows no signs of easing with peace efforts largely stalled.

Despite occasional lulls in the fighting, there has been no viable political solution. The international community’s efforts to mediate peace have repeatedly failed, leaving Syria in a state of frozen conflict.

Poverty has also become rampant across the front lines, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. Basic necessities are scarce, and millions of Syrians are struggling to survive amid the ongoing violence. International aid, once a lifeline for many, has been dwindling due to donor fatigue and the shift of global attention elsewhere.

The deteriorating conditions in Syria have triggered a surge in migration, with a growing number of Syrians seeking refuge in other countries. That has prompted alarm from neighboring nations and the international community, who are grappling with the implications of increased migration flows.

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.

Albert Aji

Associated Press


Amr Nabil (AP)