Assad arrives in Saudi Arabia to attend Arab League summit

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has arrived in Saudi Arabia to attend the Arab League summit for the first time in 12 years.

Saudi Arabia's state-run media reports that Assad arrived in the western Saudi city of Jeddah on Thursday. The summit will convene in the city the following day.

Syria had been suspended from the regional grouping since 2011, following its harsh crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations that led to a civil war. But the country was reinstated to the league earlier this month.

Observers say Assad seeks to highlight normalization of his country's ties with its neighbors after years of international isolation.

Crews from Syrian media are in Saudi Arabia. A state-run television reporter said the summit will be a significant opportunity to demonstrate the unity of the Arab world, and expressed the hope for economic cooperation among the member states.

The Assad administration, however, has been criticized for violently clamping down on people involved in anti-government activities. The United States has continued with its economic sanctions against Syria, while Qatar, an Arab League member, has shown reluctance to normalize relations with the country.