Syria hopes to jumpstart rebuilding despite massive hurdles

Syria hopes to jumpstart rebuilding despite massive hurdles
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The exhibition is being held at the Damascus International Fairgrounds near the airport, not far from wrecked former rebel strongholds. (AP)
Syria hopes to jumpstart rebuilding despite massive hurdles
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Most of the companies participating in the four-day exhibition are Syrian, followed by Lebanese and Iranian exhibitors. (AP)
Syria hopes to jumpstart rebuilding despite massive hurdles
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At the opening of the convention on Tuesday, Syrian officials, journalists and visitors walked among stalls for construction materials, industrial supplies, and even an Iranian maritime company with intricate model ships. (AP)
Updated 03 October 2018

Syria hopes to jumpstart rebuilding despite massive hurdles

Syria hopes to jumpstart rebuilding despite massive hurdles
  • For now, Syria will have to rely on small-scale investments and development projects to jumpstart reconstruction efforts
  • Critics say the government lacks a clear strategy for rebuilding

DAMASCUS, Syria: With back-to-back trade fairs held in Damascus this month, Syria is hoping to jumpstart reconstruction of its devastated cities by inviting international investors to take part in lucrative opportunities.
But the absence of significant Western participants, the challenges posed by international sanctions and the lack of a political solution to the seven-year-old conflict point to massive hurdles ahead.
The government says it will only award contracts to “friendly countries” that have supported Syria throughout the civil war. In an address to the UN General Assembly last week, Syria’s foreign minister said Western countries that set political conditions before committing reconstruction funds are not welcome.
But the relatively small-scale participation of companies from Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran — both under US sanctions — can hardly even begin to cover the enormous reconstruction costs in Syria, estimated to be anywhere between $250 billion and $400 billion. A UN agency estimates the war has cost $388 billion, and Syria says it needs $48 billion in short term investments for the housing sector alone.
Around half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million has been uprooted -nearly 6 million fled abroad, while 6.6 million are displaced within Syria — and entire cities lay in ruins, their infrastructure decimated.
Syrian officials say that with the government’s military gains over the past year, it’s now time to focus on rebuilding. The government now holds just over 60 percent of Syria’s territory, with the north largely controlled by US-backed and Kurdish-led forces, opposition fighters allied with Turkey, and insurgent groups.
“The process of eradicating terrorism has reached its final stages, and the reconstruction phase is knocking on the doors,” Public Works and Housing Minister Hussein Arnous said Tuesday, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurating the 4th International Trade Exhibition for Rebuilding Syria.
Arnous said 270 companies from 29 countries are taking part in this year’s exhibition despite the sanctions imposed on Syrian.
Most of the companies participating in the four-day exhibition are Syrian, followed by Lebanese and Iranian exhibitors.
“I don’t hope that the West will come here, because it had a big hand in the war against Syria,” said Youssef Alousi , sales manager at Balkis Ceramics, a Syrian tile manufacturer which was showcasing, among other designs, a picture of Syrian President Bashar Assad printed on tiles. “Syria will be rebuilding Syria,” he added.
The exhibition is being held at the Damascus International Fairgrounds near the airport, not far from wrecked former rebel strongholds. Israel struck targets near the airport last month.
Buildings with gaping holes and others with their top floors collapsed could be seen on each side of the highway leading to the fair — testimony to the ferocious fighting that raged there for years.
At the opening of the convention on Tuesday, Syrian officials, journalists and visitors walked among stalls for construction materials, industrial supplies, and even an Iranian maritime company with intricate model ships.
Syria’s tiny neighbor, Lebanon, had the second highest number of participants, with 35 companies exhibiting their products Tuesday. Lebanese companies are anxious to get a piece of the reconstruction cake, but the Lebanese government is split, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri reluctant to normalize relations with Syria under Assad.
But Nasri Khoury, who heads the Syrian-Lebanese Supreme Council, an organization set up in the early 1990s to support bilateral cooperation, said it is “high time for the Lebanese government to reconsider its existing policy if wants to play a principle role in rebuilding Syria.”
Although 38 Russian companies took part in the Damascus International Fair last month, only one made it to Tuesday’s opening. Russia is a key ally of Assad, and its military support, starting in 2015, has helped turn the tide in his favor. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been lobbying for Western aid funding, while helping Assad prepare for an assault on the last rebel stronghold of Idlib, in northwestern Syria.
Anisimov Valeriy, who works for the Russian petrochemical firm JSC Promcatalys, says it hopes to tap into the underserved market but has yet to find a way around the sanctions. He said he was hoping to speak with other business people at the conference about transferring money into and out of Syria.
“There are many problems with Syria industry because of US sanctions, and our company is ready to provide all the catalysts, all the technologies that Syrian customers cannot get because of these sanctions,” he said, adding that his company is in talks with two oil refineries in Syria.
Russian companies face competition from China, which is making serious, if cautious, efforts to snap up reconstruction offers.
Tarif Nahhas, the Syrian representative of the Chinese Truemax engineering solutions company, said China is still trying to find its way in Syria, with many companies worried about security and stability. He said exhibitions like these help company representatives assess the situation on the ground for themselves.
For now, Syria will have to rely on small-scale investments and development projects to jumpstart reconstruction efforts, but critics say the government lacks a clear strategy for rebuilding.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, insisted last week that America will not “rebuild Syria” for Assad and his Russian supporters, calling the idea “absurd.”
“The US taxpayer is certainly not going to subsidize Assad’s campaign of destruction,” she said. The State Department on Tuesday linked reconstruction assistance with the need to achieve “irreversible” progress in a UN-sponsored political process.
Iran’s ambassador to Syria, Javad Turk-Abadi, said it’s only natural that Iranian investors should come to Syria to help it rebuild, shrugging off US sanctions against both countries.
“America’s sanctions, same as with its politics, are unilateral, and the result is that America will stand alone, punishing only itself,” he said.


Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade
Updated 9 min ago

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade
  • In a statement released by Bahrain’s state media, both men drew upon their countries’ “brotherly ties”

DUBAI: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said Tuesday that coordination with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyanis ongoing to protect international navigation from any threats. 

In a statement released by Bahrain’s state media, both men drew upon their countries’ “brotherly ties” during the meeting and vowed to “continue coordinating a joint strategic vision to establish security and stability.”

“Protect international maritime traffic from any threats that negatively affect the course of global trade,” is of the utmost importance, the statement said.


Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
Updated 03 August 2021

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
  • UK inquest found Abbas Khan was unlawfully killed in regime prison
  • Karim Al-Jian: ‘Someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives’

LONDON: A newly qualified Syrian-born British doctor has had an emotional meeting with the siblings of the deceased British surgeon who inspired him to enter the field.
Karim Al-Jian, 24, who was born in Aleppo but raised in Britain, recently met with the brother and sister of Dr. Abbas Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon from London who was killed in a Syrian prison after he left the safety of his home to care for victims in the war-torn nation.


Al-Jian posted a photo of himself with a portrait of Khan with the caption: “In 2012 British surgeon Abbas Khan went to Aleppo, Syria to treat wounded civilians. He was consequently tortured and murdered by the Syrian regime. His story touched many, including a … boy from Aleppo who wanted to be like Dr. Khan. Today that boy graduated a doctor.”

Khan’s sister Sara, 31, asked Twitter users to locate Al-Jian. “This is so touching it has brought tears to my eyes,” she wrote. “I would like to send him a message if possible.”

The BBC organized a meeting between the new medic and Khan’s family. Sara told Al-Jian: “It is inspiring the fact that you dedicated your medical career to Abbas. I cannot explain to you how touched my family and I are. It was so beautiful to read it.”

The deceased doctor’s brother Shah, who is also an orthopaedic surgeon, has said he will keep in touch with Al-Jian to give him advice about his career path. Al-Jian intends to share the same specialism as the Khan brothers.

Al-Jian said when he was a teenager, he saw the news of Khan’s sacrifice, which inspired him to turn to medical training.

On his graduation and eight years after the surgeon’s death, Al-Jian paid tribute to Khan on social media, posing with his portrait while donning his academic robes.
Khan traveled to Syria via Turkey to lend his expertise by assisting the victims of bombed hospitals, which were being regularly targeted by regime forces.
He was arrested and jailed for over a year in a regime-controlled prison. In December 2013, he was found hanging in his cell. He was 32. A British inquest in 2014 concluded that he had been unlawfully killed.
Al-Jian said Khan’s story had an enormous impact on him, and he shared in the pain and suffering that he saw.

“That someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives was astounding to me. He put the lives of others before himself,” said Al-Jian. “I really felt that his mother’s pain was the pain of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.”

Living in northern England at the time, Al-Jian was awarded a place to study on the country’s south coast at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. He graduated last month after five years. 


Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
Updated 03 August 2021

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
  • The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital
  • HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials

BEIRUT: A report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday concluded there was strong evidence to suggest some Lebanese officials knew about and tacitly accepted the lethal risks posed by ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port before the fatal blast there on Aug. 4 last year.
The explosion, caused by the chemicals stored unsafely at the port for years, killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital.
The report by the international rights watchdog contained over 700 pages of findings and documents. Its investigation also concluded there was evidence that multiple Lebanese authorities were criminally negligent under Lebanese law.
HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials including the president, the caretaker prime minister and the head of the country’s state security.
The investigation trailed events from 2014 onwards after the shipment was brought to Beirut port and tracked repeated warnings of danger to various official bodies.
“Evidence strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate’s presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring,” the report said.
It called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an investigation into the blast and on foreign governments to impose human rights and corruption sanctions on officials.
A Lebanese investigation into the blast, led by Judge Tarek Bitar, has stalled. Politicians and senior security officials are yet to be questioned and requests to lift their immunity have been hindered.
The HRW report said President Michel Aoun, caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, the director general of state security Tony Saliba and other former ministers wanted for questioning by judge Bitar, had failed to take action to protect the general public despite having been informed of the risks.
Reuters sought comment on the report’s findings from Aoun, Diab and Saliba. The presidential palace offered no comment. There was no immediate response from Diab and Saliba.
Aoun said on Friday he was ready to testify and that no one was above the law.
A document seen by Reuters that was sent just over two weeks before the blast showed the president and prime minister were warned about the security risk posed by the chemicals stored at the port and that they could destroy the capital.


Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
Updated 03 August 2021

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
  • New Iran president Ebrahim Raisi: Government would try to improve living conditions which have suffered under the sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s supreme leader officially endorsed his hard-line protégé as the nation’s next president on Tuesday, just two days ahead of the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi. The new president’s ascension comes at a sensitive time for Iran and the wider Middle East.
Iran is reeling from crushing US sanctions that have devastated the economy, led to the crash of the Iranian riyal and hit ordinary Iranians hard.
In his speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised Raisi, a former judiciary chief, to “empower the country’s poor people and improve the national currency.”
Doubts about an imminent return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, have become a dark cloud dangling over the incoming hard-line administration.
The collapse of the nuclear agreement after former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord three years ago doomed the relatively moderate administration of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who has seen his popularity plummet. Rouhani sat stone-faced throughout the endorsement ceremony.
Last week, Khamenei delivered a harsh rebuke of the West, blaming the delay of the nuclear deal’s revival on America’s “stubborn” negotiating stance. While repeating his usual anti-West rhetoric on Tuesday about Iran’s “enemies” seeking to sway public opinion, Khamenei struck a milder tone during the endorsement. He focused on Iran’s mounting domestic issues, praising Raisi’s anti-corruption campaign and asking him to encourage local production.
“The nation needs competent, effective and brave management,” Khamenei said.
Without commenting on the stalled nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Raisi stressed he would “pursue the removal of oppressive sanctions” in order to salvage the crippled economy.
“We will not (tie) the people’s dining tables and the economy to the will of the foreigners,” he said. Raisi won a landslide victory in the June election, which saw the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. He will take the oath of office in an inauguration ceremony Thursday before parliament.
President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the landmark nuclear accord and lift sanctions if Iran moves back into compliance with the agreement.
But escalating tensions in the Middle East now risk complicating the diplomatic choreography. The West has blamed Iran for a drone attack last week that struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. Iran has denied involvement in the incident, which marks the first-known fatal assault after a yearslong shadow war targeting commercial shipping in the region.


UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help
Updated 03 August 2021

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help

UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help
  • Tunisia has plunged into political turmoil, adding to the crippling economic crisis as well as a wave of COVID-19 infections

GENEVA: UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced her concerns about the political turmoil in Tunisia in a phonecall with the foreign minister, and offered her assistance if required, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi called the high commissioner for human rights after President Kais Saied seized power on July 25 following violent demonstrations against the government.
“It’s a worrying situation. We are following really closely and we know the challenges the country is facing,” Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for Bachelet’s office, told reporters in Geneva.
“What we hope is that all the achievements toward democratic reform that they have been doing over the last 10 years can be maintained and preserved, and that there’s no regression in any way.”
Tunisia has often been praised as a rare success story for its democratic transition after the Arab Spring regional uprisings sparked by its 2011 revolution.
But many Tunisians are angered at a political class seen as obsessed with power struggles and disconnected from the suffering of the poor, amid high unemployment and spiralling prices.
In a surprise move, Saied sacked prime minister Hichem Mechichi late last month and suspended parliament for 30 days. He ordered a graft crackdown targeting 460 businessmen and an investigation into alleged illegal funding of political parties.
The move plunged Tunisia into political turmoil, adding to the crippling economic crisis as well as a wave of COVID-19 infections.
Hurtado said former Chilean president Bachelet told Jerandi “that we are here to support them — we have an office on the ground in Tunisia — and we are closely following the situation and we are there to help, should they ask for it.
“We are concerned at what is happening but we trust that the authorities have the capacity to deal with it,” Hurtado added.
“But we are open to any request that they might have for help.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said that the country may be over the peak of the latest wave but the government must still speed up inoculations.
“The epidemiological data are going in the right direction,” WHO representative in Tunisia Yves Souteyrand told a press conference.
“We have the feeling that the peak of the epidemic may have passed.”
But with vaccines in short supply, overwhelmed hospitals, shortages of oxygen and the highly contagious Delta variant rampaging through the country’s 12 million population mean the risk of a health disaster remains, the WHO warned.
The Delta variant was responsible for “more than 90 percent” of cases, and the impact of family gatherings during a recent religious holiday was hard to evaluate but could set back progress made, Souteyrand said.
“The challenge is to speed up the vaccination campaign,” he said.
The country had “in 10 days received around seven million vaccine doses and will receive perhaps two or three million more” soon, he said.
The WHO has also provided 400 oxygen concentrators and four oxygen generators to Tunisia.
Since the shock move late last month, Saied has established a coronavirus crisis unit, supervised by a high-level military official, to help manage the country’s outbreak.
Souteyrand said that “relations between the WHO and the health ministry have not been affected by the political crisis.”
The health ministry on Monday announced the start of a mobile vaccination campaign in several regions.
Authorities have also announced a vaccination drive across the country on Sunday for Tunisians aged over 40.
Over the past seven days, the North African country has registered the worst official Covid-19 mortality rate in the world, with 10.64 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, an AFP tally based on officially reported data shows.
On the other hand, Tunisia shares its coronavirus data more transparently than many other countries, the WHO said.