Syrian President Bashar al Assad attended the annual Arab League summit for the first time in 12 years.
Mr Assad was suspended by the alliance after his crackdown on pro-democracy protests led to the outbreak of civil war in 2011.
More than 500,000 people have died since then and more than half of the country’s 22 million people before the war have had to flee their homes.
Speaking in the host city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Mr Assad described his reintegration as a “historic opportunity” to address crises in the Arab world.
The decision to allow him to return is part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s bid to improve relations in the region, after pushing to restore diplomatic relations with long-time rival Iran earlier this year.
It also comes after devastating earthquake in February that killed around 50,000 people in Turkey and 8,000 in Syria.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was also in Jeddah, after other surprise in-person engagements in London, the Vatican and Paris.
So far he has largely left the country only to visit Ukraine’s allies, but on Friday Mr Zelenskyy accused some of the 22 member states of ‘turning a blind eye’ to the Russian invasion .
Apparently citing the region’s difficult past, he said he hoped they would understand that Ukraine “will never submit to any foreigner or colonizer”.
“That’s why we fight,” he added.
Mr Zelenskyy criticized Iran for supplying the Kremlin with drones and also mentioned the plight of ethnic Muslim Tatars living under Russian occupation in Crimea.
Saudi Arabia said it was “ready to undertake mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine”, but did not respond to demands for increased oil production to help cripple Russia.
What is the Arab League?
The Arab League was created in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II.
It started with just seven founding members but has since grown to 22, with five additional “observer” states – Brazil, India, Venezuela, Armenia and Eritrea.
Based in Cairo, it hosts an annual summit to promote sovereignty, political stability, trade and economic growth in the Arab world.
Egypt and Libya are the only other member states, except Syria, to have been temporarily suspended.
Despite UN supervision, it has not enjoyed a high level of cooperation since its inception.
Departure from Qatar before Assad’s speech
However, not everyone was thrilled to welcome Mr. Assad back.
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, left the summit before Mr Assad spoke.
He declined to deliver a speech or hold any bilateral meetings and described it as merely a “courtesy call”.
The United States and its Western allies have also expressed shock at the Syrian leader’s invitation, with much of the world viewing him as a war criminal.
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US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said America “does not believe Syria deserves to be readmitted”.
Sudanwhere the conflict between two warring generals costs hundreds of lives, was also on the agenda.
League members support both sides and last week Jeddah hosted negotiations that resulted in the promise of safe passage for civilians to flee the fighting, as well as protection for humanitarian workers.
Support for the Palestinians was also discussed as tensions escalate in the Middle East.