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
0

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.


Syria police deploy in south Damascus after Daesh defeat

Updated 58 sec ago
0

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.