Af­ter help­ing re­take Aleppo, Rus­sia seeks to re­build it

Moscow pro­vides stu­dents with back-to-school pack­ages

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Flick­ing through be­fore-and-af­ter photos of Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque on his phone, the city’s mufti Mah­moud Akkam said he ini­tially wanted the cel­e­brated land­mark to be re­stored by fel­low Syr­i­ans. But when Ramzan Kady­rov, the strong­man chief of Rus­sia’s Chech­nya re­gion, of­fered to re­pair the dam­age that the an­cient mosque sus­tained in fe­ro­cious clashes four years ago, Akkam felt he could not say no. “He was very per­sis­tent,” Akkam said, “and since we are of the same re­li­gion and he un­der­stands us, we ac­cepted.”

Kady­rov is a fierce loy­al­ist of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, but has also sought to present him­self as an in­flu­en­tial fig­ure for Mus­lims world­wide. A fund named af­ter his fa­ther Akhmat has al­ready trans­ferred the es­ti­mated $14 mil­lion needed to fund the mosque’s restora­tions. If it is not enough, “they will trans­fer more,” Akkam told jour­nal­ists on a tightly con­trolled tour of Aleppo or­ga­nized by Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary to tout the city’s resur­gence.

Syria’s sec­ond city was bat­tered by four years of fight­ing be­tween rebels in the east and govern­ment forces in the west, un­til an evac­u­a­tion deal at the end of 2016 brought it un­der regime con­trol. One of the blood­i­est front­lines was Aleppo’s Old City, a UNESCO-listed world her­itage site fea­tur­ing the an­cient cov­ered mar­ket, cen­turies-old ci­tadel, and fa­mous Umayyad mosque. Clashes in April 2013 re­duced the mosque’s minaret, which dates back to the 11th cen­tury, to an un­rec­og­niz­able pile of blocks.

Rus­sia has been a decades-long ally of Da­m­as­cus and stuck by its side when the up­ris­ing against Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad broke out in 2011, be­fore de­volv­ing into a civil war that has killed over 330,000 peo­ple. In Septem­ber 2015, Moscow be­gan car­ry­ing out air strikes that have al­lowed Syr­ian troops to re­take swathes of ter­ri­tory-in­clud­ing Aleppo. Now that it is back un­der govern­ment con­trol, Rus­sia ap­pears keen to help re­build it. Aleppo’s sky­line features mas­sive posters of As­sad against a back­drop of the an­cient ci­tadel. The ca­coph­ony of honk­ing and buzz of shop­pers in some neigh­bor­hoods sounds like that of any me­trop­o­lis, but much of the city’s east still lies in silent ruin. An­a­lysts say Syria’s fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions are not in a po­si­tion to fund re­con­struc­tion and na­tions that have called for As­sad’s ouster are un­likely to help. Al­lies like Rus­sia and Iran have stepped in to fill the void.

Syria signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing on Tues­day with Tehran for the pro­vi­sion of five gas units to help gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity and re­store power to Aleppo. And yes­ter­day, Moscow said it will send some 4,000 tons of build­ing ma­te­ri­als and con­struc­tion equip­ment to Syria to help “re­build vi­tal in­fra­struc­ture for set­tle­ments freed from ter­ror­ists ”. The de­liv­ery­in­clud­ing 2,000 tons of me­tal wa­ter pipes and hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters of high-volt­age ca­bleswas be­ing trans­ported by train to a port in south­ern Rus­sia for on­ward ship­ment to Syria.

A long-time ally

Asked whether the West was help­ing re­build Aleppo, deputy gover­nor Faris Faris said Europe “only gave us mil­i­tants to kill Syr­ian peo­ple.” “We will have to re­build our­selves, with govern­ment help. With­out Euro­pean help,” he said. And Akkam said UNESCO had not done enough for the city’s her­itage whereas Chech­nya’s Kady­rov “ex­tended his help at a very dif­fi­cult time.” The pro-Putin leader has helped re­build Rus­sia’s largest mosque, but his fund been crit­i­cized as “the least trans­par­ent or­ga­ni­za­tion” by op­po­si­tion pa­per No­vaya Gazeta.

Of­fi­cials also ap­peared keen to bran­dish Moscow’s help in restor­ing Aleppo’s Al-Furqan school and pro­vid­ing Syr­ian stu­dents there with back-to-school pack­ages. “Rus­sia has been here for a long time,” said deputy pro­vin­cial gover­nor Hamid Kino. Rus­sian forces were pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for aid con­voys and help­ing trans­port fam­i­lies dis­placed from Aleppo’s out­skirts back into their bat­tered home­towns, he said. “Ev­ery day peo­ple come back to those towns. Some have their own cars, but for oth­ers, we find buses while the Rus­sians bring Ka­maz trucks for peo­ple’s be­long­ings,” Kino said. —AFP

ALEPPO: Peo­ple ride bi­cy­cles in what was once a rebel-con­trolled area in Aleppo, Syria. — AP

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