Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reaps economic rewards in Syria

Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis, right, reviews honor guard as he is accompanied by Iranian Senior Vice-President Eshagh Jahangiri. Five memorandums of understanding were signed between the two countries. (Office of the Iranian Senior Vice-President via AP)
Updated 20 January 2017
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards reaps economic rewards in Syria

DUBAI/BEIRUT: Iran’s government and entities close to the elite Revolutionary Guards have signed major economic contracts with Syria, reaping what appear to be lucrative rewards for helping President Bashar Assad regain control of parts of his country from rebels.
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.

War-torn economy
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.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.