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Syria’s Assad says rebuilding is ‘top priority’

By AFP - Jul 10,2018 - Last updated at Jul 10,2018

DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Monday that his top priority was the reconstruction of his country, battered by more than seven years of fierce fighting.

He spoke during a gathering with his Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Muallem and other Syrian diplomats in Damascus, according to the presidency. 

“Reconstruction is the top priority in Syria, backed up by the continued fight against terrorism,” Assad said. 

Syria’s war began in 2011 with protests against Assad’s rule that turned into a full-fledged conflict. 

Violence has gutted the country’s infrastructure, including electricity and water systems, schools and hospitals and other institutions needed for daily civilian life.

In 2017, the World Bank estimated the cost of war-related losses in Syria at $226 billion (191 billion euros), the equivalent of four times the country’s pre-war gross domestic product.

Top officials in the West publicly insist their countries will provide no reconstruction funds without a credible political transition away from Assad. 

And the Syrian head of state, who has estimated rebuilding would cost $200 billion at the very least, has insisted he would refuse Western contributions.

In an interview in June with Russia’s NTV network, Assad said the West “won’t be part of reconstruction in Syria, because very simply we won’t allow them to be part of it, whether they come with money or not”.

On Monday, Assad said his government would also focus on amending legislation, the return of refugees who fled because of “terrorism” and reactivating the stalled political process. 

More than 6 million Syrians have been internally displaced by the conflict, and another 5 million have fled to neighbouring countries. 

Since Assad’s ally Moscow intervened in 2015, Syrian troops have recaptured swathes of the country, most recently the southern region along the border with Jordan.

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