Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reaps economic rewards in Syria
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reaps economic rewards in Syria
An opposition group condemned the telecommunications and mining deals signed with Iran, Damascus’s main regional ally, as “looting” of the Syrian people and the country’s wealth by the “Iranian extremist militias.”
Syria’s economy is shrinking fast as industrial and agricultural output falls after six years of civil war, and almost two-thirds of the population lives in extreme poverty.
Five memorandums of understanding were signed during a visit by Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis to Tehran on Tuesday, including a license for Iran to become a mobile phone service operator in Syria, and phosphate mining contracts.
Syrian state news agency SANA quoted Khamis as saying the deals reflect the special relationship between the two nations.
“We greatly appreciate Iran’s major role in combating terrorism and standing by the Syrian people in every way, politically and economically,” he said.
Syria will give Iran 5,000 hectares of land for farming, and 1,000 hectares for setting up oil and gas terminals, according to Iran’s state news agency IRNA. A deal was also signed on providing lands for animal husbandry.
Analysts said the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a military force that runs a powerful industrial empire in Iran, would benefit from the deals, especially on the mobile network contract. IRGC largely controls telecommunications in Iran.
“Telecoms are a very sensitive industry. It will allow Iran to closely monitor Syrian communications,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East program.
More than 1,000 soldiers deployed by the IRGC to Syria have been killed on front lines of the conflict in recent years.
Apart from military assistance, Syria is increasingly indebted to Iran financially: Tehran opened a $3.5 billion credit line in 2013, and extended it by $1 billion in 2015, which economists say has helped keep the Syrian economy afloat.
SANA quoted Iran’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri as saying Tehran was ready to “implement a new credit line between Syrian Trade Bank and Export Development Bank of Iran” to help trade.
Tehran and Damascus also signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in a phosphate mine in Syria’s Al-Sharqiya, according to IRNA.
Syria is among the world’s largest exporters of the rock phosphate, a raw material used in the production of phosphatic fertilizers, although the war has marred its ability to mine and market its supply.
In 2015, Daesh militants seized Al-Sharqiya mine, one of the largest in the country, located 50 km southwest of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights monitoring group reported.
Syrian government forces backed by Iran’s IRGC drove Daesh out of Palmyra in March 2016 but the militants recaptured the city in December.
In a meeting on Wednesday with Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Syrian premier Khamis called for investment in reconstruction projects in Syria, as “the infrastructure has been destroyed by war.”
Tehran has already shown interest in helping Syria rebuild its roads, airports, power stations and ports — potentially benefiting the Revolutionary Guards, which own the biggest construction firms in Iran.
But not all Syrians have welcomed what Tehran and Damascus hailed as “a new page” for economic ties.
One political opposition group called the deals “illegal and unacceptable” under any circumstances.
“These agreements represent further a blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty as they are meant to reward an occupation force in return for its involvement in shedding the Syrian people’s blood and attempting to break their will,” the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement on its website.
SANA reported that Tehran and Damascus aimed to sign a deal within two weeks to pave the way for investments by Iranian companies in a Syrian port, although it did not say which one.
“Iran increasingly treats Syria as one of its own provinces,” Sadjadpour said. “They saved Assad from falling, and now seem to feel entitled to help themselves to the Syrian economy.”
The Iranian energy minister was also quoted as saying by SANA that Tehran was ready to sign a long-term agreement with Damascus in energy sector.
Iranian firms are already involved in a series of electricity generation projects worth $660 million in Syria, according to state media in the Islamic Republic.
Iran aims to export electricity to Syria and create the biggest power network in the Islamic world by hooking up Iran’s national grid with those of Iraq and Lebanon.
Syrian children study on the ground in abandoned villa
- Some sit with their knees drawn on a plastic woven carpet, their shoes neatly by its side
ALEPPO, Syria: In rebel-held northern Syria, displaced children sit or lie on the ground of an unfinished villa, bending over their notebooks to apply themselves as they write the day’s lesson.
Four teachers instruct around 100 children — girls and boys aged six to 12 — at the makeshift school in an opposition-held area in the west of the northern province of Aleppo.
Between the bare walls of the villa abandoned mid-construction, children sit or lie on sheets or plain carpets, their small backpacks cast by their side.
Dubbed “Buds of Hope,” the teaching facility has no desks, library or even working toilets.
Instead, the air wafts in from beyond the pine trees outside through the gaping windows in the cement wall.
Dressed in a bright blue T-shirt and jeans, her hair neatly tied back in a pony tail, a barefoot girl kneels over her book, carefully writing.
“This isn’t a school,” says 11-year-old Ali Abdel Jawad.
“There aren’t any classrooms, no seats, nothing. We’re sitting on the ground,” he says.
In one classroom, a gaggle of veiled young girls sit on a bench, as the teacher explains the lesson to one of their male counterparts near a rare white board.
In another, the school’s only female teacher perches on a plastic chair, as her students gather around on the floor, their backs against the wall.
Some sit with their knees drawn on a plastic woven carpet, their shoes neatly by its side.
The children — as well as their teachers — have been displaced from their homes in other parts of Syria due to the seven-year war, a teacher told an AFP photographer.
Some hail from Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, a former rebel stronghold that fell back under regime control in April after a blistering offensive and surrender deals.
Others come from the central provinces of Hama or Homs.
A dry fountain lies in the courtyard outside the villa’s elegant facade, where girls link arms and swing around in a circle.
Schools in opposition-held areas are generally funded by aid organizations, but have in the past been hit by bombardment.
“We’re always scared of bombardment and of the situation in general,” says one of the teachers, giving his name as Mohammed.
The building lies in rebel-held territory adjacent to regime-controlled parts of Aleppo city to the east, but also the major opposition stronghold of Idlib to the west.
Some three million people live in the Idlib province and adjacent areas of the neighboring Aleppo and Latakia provinces, around half of them displaced by war in other parts of Syria.
Earlier this month, many feared a regime assault on Idlib, but last week Damascus ally Moscow and rebel backer Ankara announced a deal to temporarily halt it.