Crushed by war, Syrian tourism eyes expat uptick

A visitor uses a mobile phone as she walks at Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)
A visitor uses a mobile phone as she walks at Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)
Short Url
Updated 10 August 2022

Crushed by war, Syrian tourism eyes expat uptick

A visitor uses a mobile phone as she walks at Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Foreign visitors to Syria today come mostly from countries that have good relations with President Bashar al-Assad's government
  • Syria's economy is in dire straits, hurt by factors including a precipitous decline in the currency's value since 2019, prompted by neighbouring Lebanon's financial collapse

DAMASCUS: Somar Hazim had high hopes when he opened a hotel in Damascus in 2009, adding to a growing number of boutique guest houses in the Old City that were proving to be a hit with tourists, before war broke out and forced him to close down.
Although security returned to Damascus years ago, big-spending foreign visitors have not, with Syria still fractured by war.
Hazim has no plans to reopen his Beit Rose Hotel, an 18th century house with rooms set around a picturesque courtyard, a decision that reflects the weakness of tourism and the wider economy of a country suffering from 11 years of conflict.




People sit at a rooftop lounge in Damascus, Syria August 3, 2022. (REUTERS)

“The number of foreign tourists in Syria — as they were before 2011 ... are still few,” said Hazim, smoking a water pipe at a cafe he owns in another old Damascene house. But he sees a glimmer of hope: more Syrian expats are visiting.
At its peak in 2010, Syria attracted 10 million tourists, many of them Westerners. That all changed in 2011 with the onset of the war that has killed at least 350,000 people and uprooted half the population, forcing millions abroad as refugees.
Foreign visitors to Syria today come mostly from countries that have good relations with President Bashar Assad’s government. They include Iraqis, Lebanese and Iranians on pilgrimage to sites revered by Shiite Muslims.




A man and a woman play backgammon at Somar Hazim's cafe in Damascus, Syria July 31, 2022. (REUTERS)

Visitor numbers rose to 750,000 in the first half of 2022 from 570,000 in the same period of 2021, Tourism Minister Mohammed Rami Martini told Reuters, attributing the rise to the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
He expects visitor numbers this year to recover to levels last seen in 2018 and 2019.
“We have close to 100,000 Iraqis, and there are Lebanese and others from friendly states. But the biggest number are the expatriates,” he said, describing this as a boost to the economy because they spend amounts similar to foreign tourists.
Syria’s economy is in dire straits, hurt by factors including a precipitous decline in the currency’s value since 2019, prompted by neighboring Lebanon’s financial collapse.




Sami Alkodaimi, a Syrian expatriate who lives in Saudi Arabia, uses his laptop at his home in Damascus, Syria August 6, 2022. (REUTERS)

Subsidies on essential goods have been gradually lifted, with prices of items such as fuel rising to unprecedented levels.
Although the currency’s collapse has boosted the purchasing power of expatriates visiting with wads of foreign currency, the gaps in some basic provisions has been frustrating.
Sami Alkodaimi, a Syrian expatriate who lives in Saudi Arabia, stayed away from the country from 2011 to 2019, during the peak of the country’s conflict.
In Syria this summer, Alkodaimi said he felt less hope during this visit, noting higher prices, fuel shortages, and poor electricity provision in the heat of summer.
“I came in my car from Riyadh. The gasoline issue is very annoying. We are trying to obtain it, but with difficulty,” he said.


Turkish minister says deadly gun attack was ‘America-based’

Turkish minister says deadly gun attack was ‘America-based’
Updated 02 October 2022

Turkish minister says deadly gun attack was ‘America-based’

Turkish minister says deadly gun attack was ‘America-based’
  • Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on security force lodgings in the Mediterranean province of Mersin late on Monday, killing one officer and wounding a second officer and a civilian

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s interior minister on Saturday described a gun attack that killed a police officer in the country’s south as an “America-based” operation.

Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on security force lodgings in the Mediterranean province of Mersin late on Monday, killing one officer and wounding a second officer and a civilian. The female attackers, who Turkish authorities said were affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, later killed themselves by detonating suicide bombs.

“This action is an America-based action,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told ruling party officials in the Black Sea province of Giresun, according to the private Demiroren news agency and other outlets.

Soylu also said US authorities had requested the serial numbers of the firearms used in the attack from the Turkish police, without specifying which US agency made the request.

Turkish government officials have previously accused Washington of supporting the PKK by arming and training the group’s Syrian branch, known as the YPG.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 38-year on-off conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. The US does not recognize the YPG, which helped combat the Daesh group in Syria, as a terrorist entity.

Soylu last year alleged American involvement in a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 that killed more than 250 people.


Israeli forces kill Palestinian teenager in West Bank

Israeli forces kill Palestinian teenager in West Bank
Updated 02 October 2022

Israeli forces kill Palestinian teenager in West Bank

Israeli forces kill Palestinian teenager in West Bank
  • The shooting happened in Azariyah, a village just outside of Jerusalem, and marked the latest violence in what has become the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2015

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces on Saturday shot and killed a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank after a group of youths smashed a hole through the Israeli separation barrier and began throwing objects at police.

The shooting happened in Azariyah, a village just outside of Jerusalem, and marked the latest violence in what has become the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2015.

Amateur video shared on social media showed a group of masked youths gathered in front of the towering concrete barrier and chanting slogans as they forced their way through a gate.

“Walk forward our popular fans,” they chanted. “A hole in the separation wall, a patrol explodes.”

Israel’s paramilitary border police said forces shot a protester who attempted to throw a firebomb at them as they came to disperse a demonstration.

It said demonstrators threw stones and explosives at them.

The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the dead youth as 18-year-old Fayez Damdoum.

Israel built the barrier some 20 years ago in what it said was a security measure meant to prevent attackers from entering Israel.

But the barrier frequently dips into the West Bank, carving off nearly 10 percent of its territory.

The Palestinians view the structure as an illegal land grab and symbol of Israel’s 55-year military occupation of the territory.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

Some 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the two areas, which the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Saturday’s killing came at a time of heightened tensions. Israel has been carrying out stepped-up military activity in the West Bank, mostly in the northern cities of Jenin and Nablus, following a series of deadly Palestinian attacks inside Israel last spring.


Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security

Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security
Updated 01 October 2022

Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security

Iraq PM condemns Iran attacks on Kurdistan, calls on forces to maintain security

LONDON: Iraqi ministers on Saturday condemned an Iranian drone bombing campaign targeting bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq on Wednesday, which killed at least nine people and wounded 32 others.

The comments came during an extraordinary ministerial council meeting for national security, which was chaired by Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and attended by the defense and interior ministers, as well as a number of security leaders.

“The attendees affirmed their rejection of the Iranian bombing, which caused great damage, stressing their rejection of attempts to use Iraq as an arena for settling scores,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

“The meeting recommended that the government and the responsible authorities continue to take all necessary measures to stop these behaviors.”

The meeting also recommended that the country addresses “all that contradicts the principle of good neighborliness which Iraq believes in,” pursues relations with its neighbors, and deal with security challenges through diplomatic channels and joint security cooperation.

Al-Kadhimi called on “security committees in the governorates to bear their full responsibility for maintaining security, not to allow chaos to terrify citizens, and cause security disturbances that negatively affect the activities and daily life of the people there.”

The Iraqi leader stressed the need for all political forces to confront their national responsibility, adopt a national dialogue to resolve crises, strengthen the rule of law, address the issue of uncontrolled weapons, and eliminate armed militias that threaten people’s security and civil peace.

He also praised “the peaceful demonstrators who were keen to advance their legitimate demands for a country free of corruption and reform, and to preserve freedom of expression from any extraneous practices that harm its constitutional and human essence.”

Al-Kadhimi was referring to demonstrations in the capital, Baghdad, to mark the anniversary of anti-government unrest that erupted in 2019.


US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer

US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer
Updated 01 October 2022

US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer

US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer
  • UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Baquer Namazi is being allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment
  • It was unclear if Siamak's furlough might be a step toward his full release

DUBAI: Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who has been imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years, has been allowed out of Tehran’s Evin prison on a one-week, renewable furlough, his lawyer Jared Genser told Reuters on Saturday.
United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement that Siamak’s father, Baquer Namazi, is being allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment.
Baquer Namazi was convicted in Iran of “collaboration with a hostile government” in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Iranian authorities released him on medical grounds in 2018 and closed his case in 2020, commuting his sentence to time served but effectively barring him from leaving the country.
His son, Siamak, was convicted of the same charge and has been held in Evin prison since 2015. The US government has described the charges against both as baseless.
It was unclear if Siamak’s furlough might be a step toward his full release, nor whether it signals the possible furlough or release of other US citizens detained in Iran.
“I am thrilled for the Namazi family that for the first time in seven years Siamak Namazi is sleeping at home with his family,” Genser, who represents the family, told Reuters, saying Siamak was staying with his parents at their Tehran apartment.
“This is a critical first step but of course we will not rest until the entire family is able to return to the United States and their long nightmare is finally over,” Genser added.


Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt

Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt
Updated 01 October 2022

Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt

Mother’s ‘Village of Hope’ paves way for disabled rights in Egypt
  • The Village of Hope is an association for the development and social rehabilitation of the disabled

CAIRO: An Egyptian mother of a disabled child who established a village in Alexandria Governorate to support her son and people with disabilities is reaping the benefits of her noble project.

Nada Thabet, a member of parliament, who set up Al-Amal, or the “Village of Hope,” told Arab News: “I gave birth to a baby 42 years ago, and after a few months, I noticed that he does not see me and does not move like normal children. When I traveled abroad with him, the doctors told me that he is disabled and will need special training and treatment.”

Thabet tried to help her son integrate into society by homeschooling him, ignoring antiquated, insensitive advice from doctors who advised her to treat the boy like a “pet cat or dog.”

At the time, Thabet struggled to find a school for children with disabilities in 1980s Egypt. “I and several other mothers tried to establish one class in Alexandria at St. Mark’s College School to teach people with disabilities.

“We started with three children, then the number grew with the increasing awareness of mothers and fathers about the necessity to educate the disabled.”

For the Village of Hope, Thabet chose the location in the Burj Al-Arab area, on the outskirts of Alexandria.

“My family owns a large plot of land in that area, but the place was initially a desert, so we greened it with plants and paved a road to reach the site. The main idea behind the village was to create a place to train the disabled in handicrafts. When we started promoting the village, only five children joined us,” she said.

“First, we set up a bakery, then we experimented with agriculture, which turned out to be a great success because children learned from nature, then the number of children increased, and it has been constantly increasing ever since,” Thabet added.

The village also has a carpentry workshop. It organizes seminars for disabled children and their families to increase awareness and help them deal with their children’s disabilities.

“Now, more than 40 children are enrolled in the village, some of whom spend the day and then go home with their families, while others reside in the village and go to their families only for two days because of long distances,” said Thabet.

The Village of Hope is an association for the development and social rehabilitation of the disabled. It also encourages NGOs to support its cause and spread the culture of volunteerism in a way that guarantees the rights of the disabled.

Thabet devoted herself to public and voluntary work in Egypt 15 years ago. “All the children and people suffering from disabilities who joined the association have seen a great improvement that makes us feel that we have succeeded, and contributed to their rehabilitation and integration in Egyptian society. We also help them launch their products in the market," she said.