Assad regime promotes Syria as a 'tourist' destination

Syrian soldiers walk in front a destroyed building in Aleppo, Syria. The Syrian government is advertising Aleppo, along with other destinations in Syria, at the Fitur International Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid.(AP)
Updated 20 January 2018
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Assad regime promotes Syria as a 'tourist' destination

MADRID: It is over a year since Bashar Al-Assad's regime, with the help of Russian air strikes and barrel bombs, pounded the rebel-held east of Aleppo into submission.
Buildings were flattened, those who survived were left terrorised, hungry and filled with despair, and the stench of dead bodies rose up from the rubble as families searched for their loved ones.
Now, having largely destroyed the city it sought to control, the Assad regime wants the world to visit what remains: as a tourist destination.
This week the Syrian government is advertising Aleppo, along with other destinations in Syria, at the Fitur International Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid, "promoting" the country's attractions to the world.
It is the first time Syria has attended the trade fair since 2011, before the war broke out.
Along with the ruins of Aleppo, it also encourages people to visit the ancient Roman-era ruins of Palmyra, the UNESCO-listed archaeological site which was twice controlled by Daesh.
Daesh fighters blew up some of the temples and burial towers before being forced out of the city for the final time last year by Syrian government forces and their Russian backers.
"This year is the time to rebuild Syria and our economy," Bassam Barsik, director of marketing at the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, told AFP.
Barsik said 1.3 million foreign visitors travelled to Syria last year, although that figure includes those who came from neighbouring Lebanon for only one day.
"We're targeting two million visitors this year," he said.
He argued that religious destinations, such as the historic Christian town of Maaloula, one of the last places on earth where Aramaic is still spoken, are still a draw to tourists.
Damascus, Tartus, Latakia and the historic Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers close to the border with Lebanon, although damaged by bombing, are other possible attractions.
"In 2017, the army controlled much of the country, and that was a big help to promote Syria abroad and attract tourist groups again," said Barsik.
Most countries advise citizens against all travel to Syria.
The war has displaced millions of people and is estimated to have claimed the lives of at least 340,000 people since 2011.


Two killed in attack on Egypt security forces in Sinai

Updated 26 min 9 sec ago
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Two killed in attack on Egypt security forces in Sinai

  • North Sinai has long been a hotspot of extremist insurgents, mainly the local affiliates of Daesh
  • The attack hit forces stationed near a parking lot in the city of Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai

CAIRO: Two people including a civilian were killed in a suicide bomb attack Thursday targeting security forces in the restive Sinai Peninsula, medical and security sources said.
The attack hit forces stationed near a parking lot in the city of Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai, the sources told AFP.
One member of the security forces was killed and three others were wounded, while a civilian also died in the bombing.
The armed forces confirmed in a statement one of its soldiers had been killed in the assault, without mentioning the civilian or other casualties.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
North Sinai has long been a hotspot of extremist insurgents, mainly the local affiliates of Daesh.
Last year, Egypt launched a massive offensive mainly with the aim of wiping out the militants in the turbulent region.
Hundreds of militants have been killed along with dozens of soldiers, according to official figures which cannot be verified as Sinai is largely cut off to journalists and independent investigators.