First Published: 2018-01-20

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination
Having largely destroyed the ancient city of Aleppo, the Assad regime wants world to visit what remains - as a tourist destination.
Middle East Online

Most countries advise citizens against all travel to Syria.

DAMASCUS - It is over a year since Bashar al-Assad's regime, with the help of Russian air strikes and barrel bombs, pounded the rebel-held east of Aleppo into submission.

Buildings were flattened, those who survived were left terrorised, hungry and filled with despair, and the stench of dead bodies rose up from the rubble as families searched for their loved ones.

Now, having largely destroyed the city it sought to control, the Assad regime wants the world to visit what remains: as a tourist destination.

This week the Syrian government is advertising Aleppo, along with other destinations in Syria, at the Fitur International Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid, "promoting" the country's attractions to the world.

It is the first time Syria has attended the trade fair since 2011, before the war broke out.

Along with the ruins of Aleppo, it also encourages people to visit the ancient Roman-era ruins of Palmyra, the UNESCO-listed archaeological site which was twice controlled by the Islamic State (IS) group.

IS fighters blew up some of the temples and burial towers before being forced out of the city for the final time last year by Syrian government forces and their Russian backers.

"This year is the time to rebuild Syria and our economy," Bassam Barsik, director of marketing at the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, said.

Barsik said 1.3 million foreign visitors travelled to Syria last year, although that figure includes those who came from neighbouring Lebanon for only one day.

"We're targeting two million visitors this year," he said.

He argued that religious destinations, such as the historic Christian town of Maaloula, one of the last places on earth where Aramaic is still spoken, are still a draw to tourists.

Damascus, Tartus, Latakia and the historic Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers close to the border with Lebanon, although damaged by bombing, are other possible attractions.

"In 2017, the army controlled much of the country, and that was a big help to promote Syria abroad and attract tourist groups again," said Barsik.

Most countries advise citizens against all travel to Syria.

The war has displaced millions of people and is estimated to have claimed the lives of at least 340,000 people since 2011.


Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting