Syria hesitant about India’s role in reconstruction after Modi’s Israel visit
The Syrian government is hesitant about inviting India to participate in the war-torn country’s reconstruction because of public disappointment over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, a top aide to President Bashar al-Assad has said.
The views expressed by Bouthaina Shaaban, one of the closest aides of Assad, could be perceived as a snub by Indian policy-makers, especially since New Delhi has tacitly backed the Syrian regime since the country’s conflict began in 2011.
Sipping a glass of wine at a hotel in the “green zone” of Damascus, Shaaban speaks of the bitter taste left by the Indian premier’s visit to Israel.
“Allow me to say that the Syrian people are very disappointed with the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Israel, because Israel is an occupying and a colonial force which has deprived Palestinians of their indigenous rights. We never expected India will move from its righteous and moral stand and pay that huge courtesy to Israel,” Shabaan, a frequent visitor to India, told Hindustan Times.
“I can say that while we call for a role for China and a role for Russia, we are very hesitant to call for a role for India (in rebuilding Syria),” she added.
Perhaps indicative of Syria’s anger, Shaaban volunteered the response when she was asked about the sort the Assad regime envisages for India in post-war efforts.
“Regardless of the economic and military relations, because we know there are relations between India and Israel, the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Israel was really shocking,” she said.
It wasn’t India’s working relationship with Israel but the prime ministerial visit and the optics it entailed that had baffled Syria, she added.
In 2016, India abstained from a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire following the siege of Aleppo imposed by the Syrian government and backed with Russian military might. Despite the war, high-level visits between India and Syria continued, including one by minister of state for external affairs MJ Akbar in 2016.
The World Bank estimates that the cost of rebuilding Syria’s bombed-out cities will be $200 billion. Hindustan Times has learnt India has the capacity to take on projects worth $20 billion, a tenth of the total estimate.
India’s involvement in projects in Syria ranges from a $25 million line of credit for modernising the Hama Iron and Steel Plant (Apollo International won the contract and completed the project) to a contract signed by BHEL in 2009 to part finance the Tishreen power plant through another line of credit of $100 million (the work was suspended due to the ongoing crisis and has not resumed).
New Delhi has also pledged $4 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian regime, while ONGC Videsh Limited won the bid to look for oil and natural gas in Block 24 in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province.
A team from OVL visited Syria two to three weeks ago and, according to sources, was assured by the Syrian regime of preferential treatment. But Deir Ezzor continues to be an active battleground and fierce fighting between the Syrian regime and the Islamic State and other groups is taking place in the country’s eastern front on the border with Iraq.
After a gap of six years, Damascus is ready to host its international trade fair. The capital and even the destroyed cities of Homs and Aleppo are flaunting huge signboards for the fair to be held on August 17 that promises to rebuild Syria.
Assad is relying heavily on the financial muscle of BRICS nations, but is mostly dependent on the Chinese. China has announced it will invest $2 billion in an industrial park that is expected to bring 150 Chinese companies to Syria.
While the number of Chinese firms attending the fair isn’t known as yet, seven Indian companies are expected to visit Damascus on August 17, with a few more sending representatives. Indian firms are believed to be concerned about security even though the areas controlled by the regime are now relatively safer.
In the reconstruction rush, Indian diplomats are hoping Indian companies will not be left behind and lose the first-mover advantage. In an attempt to assuage Syrian concerns, sources in the Indian government said that India’s Israel policy is not at the expense of Syria.
The page on “foreign relations with Syria” on the website of the external affairs ministry still reads “India’s traditional support for just Arab causes , notably the Palestinian cause and for the return of the occupied Golan Heights to Syria, is appreciated by Syrians”.
Shabaan blamed the West for supporting anti-regime groups and said this is because of the Syrian government’s opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. She thinks the Israeli-Arab conflict is the main reason behind the war in Syria.
As she left for another meeting, she said that while Syria was saddened by Modi’s visit to Israel, it is willing to look at a “pragmatic relationship” with India.
(Anchal Vohra is an independent journalist reporting from Syria)
Day after an audio clip of top Chinese military officials were purportedly heard discussing the Taiwan invasion, US President Joe Biden has warned Beijing against what he calls 'flirting with danger'. Biden, who is currently in Tokyo ahead of Tuesday's Quad summit, said his country would defend Taiwan militarily if China invaded the self-ruling island. A viral audio clip tweeted by Jennifer Heng, China-born human rights activist has created ripples in Beijing.
Drugmaker AstraZeneca said on Monday its COVID-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, has been approved in the European Union by the bloc's drugs regulator as a third-dose booster in adults following a committee endorsement last week. A committee of the European Medicines Agency had endorsed Vaxzevria as a booster last Thursday, just weeks after the regulator backed the use of Pfizer-BioNTech's Comirnaty as a booster for adults previously inoculated with other vaccines.
President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans that the current monkeypox outbreak was unlikely to cause a pandemic on the scale of Covid-19. “I just don't think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with Covid-19,” he told reporters Monday in Tokyo at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The US has enough small pox vaccine stockpiled to deal with the outbreak, Biden said.
Jan Hugo never realised Hugo's childhood dream of becoming a princess so instead she became Australia's queen of royal memorabilia with over 10,000 pieces, a collection she plans to grow as Queen Elizabeth marks her Platinum Jubilee next month. Starting in 1981 with a commemorative coin celebrating the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana, Hugo now boasts the largest royal memorabilia collection in Australia.
A huge number of North Koreans including leader Kim Jong Un attended a funeral for a top official, state media reported Monday, as the country maintained the much-disputed claim that its suspected coronavirus outbreak is subsiding. Its state media said Monday that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 68 of them died since late April, an extremely low fatality rate if the illness is COVID-19 as suspected.