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Arab League head welcomes Syria back into the bloc

FILE PHOTO: Arab Gulf Summit in Riyadh

DUBAI (Reuters) - Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit welcomed Syria back into the bloc on Wednesday, as Arab foreign ministers gathered for a preparatory meeting ahead of the full summit.

Earlier this month, the Arab world's top diplomats agreed to fully reinstate Syria's membership after a 12-year suspension over the Syrian government's crackdown on protesters.

President Bashar al-Assad is set to attend the summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, where he will likely rub shoulders with Arab presidents and kings who for years sought to weaken him.

His foreign minister Faisal Mekdad is already in Jeddah to attend the preparatory meetings and has held talks with his Jordanian, Emirati and Lebanese counterparts among others.

Lebanon's foreign minister Abdullah Bou Habib said he had spoken to Mekdad about the return of refugees and curbing drug smuggling in the region, two issues that have been key to Arab countries' negotiations with Syria in recent months.

(Reporting by Clauda Tanios and Maya Gebeily, Writing by Jana Choukeir; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Mark Potter)