DAMASCUS, Syria – Saudi King Abdullah will visit Damascus and meet with Syria's president this week in the strongest sign of improving relations between the two Arab rivals after years of tension, the Syrian and Saudi Arabia state-run news agencies reported Monday.
Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the Feb. 14, 2005 assassination with a truck bomb of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the kingdom's strongest ally in Lebanon. Hariri also held Saudi citizenship.
This week's visit will be the first by a Saudi king to Syria since the assassination and many in Lebanon hope a full reconciliation between Damascus and Riyadh will have positive effects in Beirut.
After the assassination, Saudi Arabia waded into Lebanese politics and backed anti-Syrian political groups, while Syria supported the militant Hezbollah organization.
Another point of tension between Damascus and Riyadh is Syria's close relations with Shiite Iran which predominantly Sunni Arab nations are eager to block its influence in the Middle East.
Syria has been Tehran's strongest ally in the Arab world since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Some Arab countries, such as Saudi and Egypt, have been trying to peel Syria away from Iran but these moves so far have not been successful.
The official Saudi Press Agency said King Abdullah accepted the invite of Assad and will visit Syria in "the coming days."
In a prelude to the thaw in relations, Assad and Abdullah have held three meetings in the past two years, the last time in Saudi Arabia last month.