Syria donors gather as virus, economic chaos deepen crisis

The war has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2020

Syria donors gather as virus, economic chaos deepen crisis

BRUSSELS: Donors from around 60 countries and international agencies are meeting Tuesday to drum up financial aid for Syria as the coronavirus and economic chaos wreak even more havoc in a country shattered by a conflict now in its 10th year.
The war has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that has destabilized Syria’s neighbors and impacted Europe. Around 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and some 9 million don’t have enough to eat. More than half of the population have no jobs.
The coronavirus has sparked “a multitude of new and complex challenges including the restriction of movement and goods, the delay of certain field activities, the closure of borders and a critical insufficiency of protective equipment for staff and volunteers,” International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies President Francesco Rocca said Tuesday.
Perhaps wary of the state of coronavirus-ravaged national coffers, the European Union and the United Nations — joint chairs of the conference — underlined that they did not set a fixed pledging target.
The EU has reported that in 2019 donors contributed 8.9 billion euros ($10 billion) in grants to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The United Nations currently requires about $3.8 billion for its Syria-related work.
It will be the eighth Syria pledging conference, and the fourth hosted by the EU, which estimates that it has donated around 20 billion euros ($23 billion) to Syria and the region over the years. Around 60 countries, key UN agencies and others involved in the conflict are expected to take part.
Beyond its economic impact, the coronavirus also forced the conference to be held online. The meetings are usually an important opportunity for officials to discuss thorny issues and resolve problems, but officials worry that the virtual format might reduce this years’ conference to a number-crunching exercise.


US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

People, some wearing face masks, pray outside the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul on July 10, 2020 as they gather to celebrate after a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque. (AFP)
Updated 7 sec ago

US ‘disappointed’ by Turkey mosque move on Hagia Sophia

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site

WASHINGTON: The US said it was “disappointed” by Turkey’s decision to turn the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and urged equal access for all visitors.
“We are disappointed by the decision by the government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all,” she said on Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has chipped away at the Muslim-majority country’s secularism, announced Muslim prayers on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Erdogan’s announcement came after the cancellation of a decision under modern Turkey’s secularizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.

We understand the Turkish government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.

Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokeswoman

Erdogan went ahead despite an open appeal to the NATO ally by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who frequently speaks about religious freedom.
In a statement last week, Pompeo called the museum status an “exemplar” of Turkey’s “commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history” of the country and said a change risked “diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also said on Friday he deeply regretted Turkey’s decision.
Biden called on Erdogan to reverse it “and instead keep this treasured place in its current status as a museum, ensuring equal access for all.”