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Saudi king arrives in Syria on landmark visit

King Abdullah in Damascus for first time since 2005

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah arrived on Wednesday in Syria where he was expected to meet President Bashar al-Assad on a two-day trip hailed by analysts as a sign of warming ties between the two Arab states.

The king was heading an "important delegation" on his first trip to Damascus since he acceded to the throne in 2005, when relations soured after the allegedly Syrian-linked 2005 murder of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

In early July, Riyadh named a new ambassador to Syria after leaving the post vacant for a year and a visit to Damascus by the king has been in the works since that time, according to Saudi officials.

"A trip by the king of Saudi Arabia to Syria is very significant, certainly for inter-Arab relations," Hady Amr of the Brookings Doha Center think-tank told French news agency AFP.

King Abdullah and Assad are expected to discuss festering regional issues like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and how to help keep Iraq stable as American troops withdraw.

The Riyadh-Damascus rapprochement comes at the same time as a cautious warming takes place between Damascus and Washington under President Barack Obama.

"It's not surprising that this meeting is taking place during the Obama administration," said Amr. "The U.S. wants to bring Syria more into the fold."

Assad and King Abdullah have met several times in regional forums since Abdullah became king, although there have been no official visits until now.

Analysts say ties began to improve at an Arab summit in Kuwait in January and a second in March when outrage over Israel's turn of the year invasion of Gaza became the basis for greater unity among Arab leaders on regional issues.