After helping retake Aleppo, Russia seeks to rebuild it
After helping retake Aleppo, Russia seeks to rebuild it
But when Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman chief of Russia’s Chechnya region, offered to repair the damage that the ancient mosque sustained in ferocious clashes four years ago, Akkam felt he could not say no.
“He was very persistent,” Akkam said, “and since we are of the same religion and he understands us, we accepted.”
Kadyrov is a fierce loyalist of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but has also sought to present himself as an influential figure for Muslims worldwide.
A fund named after his father Akhmat has already transferred the estimated $14 million needed to fund the mosque’s restorations.
If it is not enough, “they will transfer more,” Akkam told journalists on a tightly controlled tour of Aleppo organized by Russia’s military to tout the city’s resurgence.
Syria’s second city was battered by four years of fighting between fighters in the east and regime forces in the west, until an evacuation deal at the end of 2016 brought it under regime control.
One of the bloodiest frontlines was Aleppo’s Old City, a UNESCO-listed world heritage site featuring the ancient covered market, centuries-old citadel, and famous Umayyad Mosque.
Clashes in April 2013 reduced the mosque’s minaret, which dates back to the 11th century, to an unrecognizable pile of blocks.
Russia has been a decades-long ally of Damascus and stuck by its side when the uprising against President Bashar Assad broke out in 2011, before devolving into a civil war that has killed over 330,000 people.
In September 2015, Moscow began carrying out airstrikes that have allowed Syrian troops to retake swathes of territory — including Aleppo.
Now that it is back under regime control, Russia appears keen to help rebuild it.
Aleppo’s skyline features massive posters of Assad against a backdrop of the ancient citadel.
The cacophony of honking and buzz of shoppers in some neighborhoods sounds like that of any metropolis, but much of the city’s east still lies in silent ruin.
Analysts say Syria’s financial institutions are not in a position to fund reconstruction and nations that have called for Assad’s ouster are unlikely to help.
Allies like Russia and Iran have stepped in to fill the void.
Syria signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday with Tehran for the provision of five gas units to help generate electricity and restore power to Aleppo.
And on Wednesday, Moscow said it will send some 4,000 tons of building materials and construction equipment to Syria to help “rebuild vital infrastructure for settlements” freed from fighters.
The delivery — including 2,000 tons of metal water pipes and hundreds of kilometers of high-voltage cables — was being transported by train to a port in southern Russia for onward shipment to Syria.
Asked whether the West was helping rebuild Aleppo, Deputy Gov. Faris Faris said Europe “only gave us militants to kill Syrian people.”
“We will have to rebuild ourselves, with government help. Without European help,” he said.
And Akkam said UNESCO had not done enough for the city’s heritage whereas Chechnya’s Kadyrov “extended his help at a very difficult time.”
The pro-Putin leader has helped rebuild Russia’s largest mosque.
Officials also appeared keen to brandish Moscow’s help in restoring Aleppo’s Al-Furqan school and providing Syrian students there with back-to-school packages.
“Russia has been here for a long time,” said Deputy Provincial Gov. Hamid Kino.
Russian forces were providing security for aid convoys and helping transport families displaced from Aleppo’s outskirts back into their battered hometowns, he said.
“Every day people come back to those towns. Some have their own cars, but for others, we find buses while the Russians bring Kamaz trucks for people’s belongings,” Kino said.
Around 3,500 people were bussed back in the past month-and-a-half to towns recaptured by Syrian troops, said Gen. Igor Yemelyanov, who heads the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria.
And within the city, Moscow has dispatched its military police to prevent looting and maintain order.
Most are from Chechnya, though some are from other majority-Muslim areas in the Russian Caucasus, said one Chechen officer.
“We have the same faith,” which helps understanding the locals, he said.
Driving new Russian Tigr all-terrain infantry vehicles, the forces wear red berets and arm bands branded with the name “military police” in Russian.
“When we were here in January there was a lot of looting. Now it’s stopped,” he said.
Syria police deploy in south Damascus after Daesh defeat
DAMASCUS: Syrian police deployed across devastated districts in southern Damascus on Tuesday, according to state media, a day after the government captured the area from the Daesh group.
The government on Monday seized the Yarmuk Palestinian camp and adjacent neighborhoods of Tadamun and Hajjar Al-Aswad, putting Damascus fully under its control for the first time since 2012.
On Tuesday, police units entered Yarmuk and Hajjar Al-Aswad and planted the two-star Syrian flag there, state television reported.
It broadcast images of security forces atop a pockmarked multi-story building in Yarmuk where they had hung the national flag.
They had also plastered pictures of President Bashar Assad and his predecessor and father Hafez.
Other police officers gathered in the ravaged streets below and fired in the air in celebration.
“The police are present round-the-clock,” said one officer interviewed on the state broadcaster.
“Special units are deployed across the camp to help any civilians and protect their belongings,” he said.
It also showed footage from Hajjar Al-Aswad of a convoy of police cars and motorcycles making its way through dusty streets lined with crumbling buildings.
There were no civilians in sight.
Yarmuk, Hajjar Al-Aswad and the nearby district of Tadamun all lie in a southern pocket of Damascus that had escaped regime control for several years.
The government began losing its grip on parts of the capital in 2012, just one year after the conflict in Syria erupted.
But it has made a comeback this year, with Assad using a mix of military pressure and evacuation deals to flush rebels and militants out of Damascus and its outskirts.
His troops and allied Palestinian fighters turned their sights on Yarmuk and the other Daesh-held parts of the capital last month.
Daesh overran Yarmuk in 2015, but the massive Palestinian camp had already been ravaged by years of rebel infighting and government attacks.
Syria’s army announced it had seized Yarmuk from Daesh on Monday.
Several sources, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a military source close to Damascus, said the capture came after a negotiated withdrawal of Daesh fighters. The government has denied such a deal.