By LEILA HATOUM
DUBAI—Syria would need about $60 billion in external assistance to help rebuild the country if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is toppled, a senior Syrian opposition figure said Wednesday.
George Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council, said the opposition would be approaching Arab and international countries in due course for loans to help rebuild the country and assist refugees.
“We will be asking for loans at a later stage from the Friends of Syria and the international community…Syria is a founding member of the Arab League and a member of the international community, and they have a duty to help it,” Mr. Sabra told reporters ahead of a conference in Dubai aimed at promoting private investment in a post-Assad Syria. He said $60 billion would be needed for reconstruction and other assistance within the first six months of the ousting of Mr. Assad’s government.
The SNC is part of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a new umbrella group for the Syrian opposition formed earlier this month which has gained recognition from the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, France and the U.K.
Nevertheless, there are lingering concerns about the effectiveness of the opposition and about divisions between the various Syrian factions. Earlier this week, representatives of 13 Islamist factions released a video statement rejecting the new coalition.
The Syrian opposition has yet to formally request any loans from the international community, and is focusing instead on securing investment for the areas of the country controlled by rebel forces. Osama Qadi, an economist and Syrian opposition member who is coordinating investment commitments, said the coalition had received investment pledges of about $1 billion from Syrian businessmen around the world.
Dr. Qadi said the $60 billion of assistance from the international community would be needed to rebuild towns such as Homs and Aleppo, which have suffered massive destruction as a result of battles between government and opposition forces, and to assist about 5 million Syrians who have fled the country or been forced to leave their homes and relocate to other areas of the country.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are nearly half a million Syrians refugees registered with the agency in camps in nearby countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey. However, the number may be higher as many Syrians have families and friends in those countries, and don’t necessarily register with the UNHCR.
Volkmar Wenzel, the German ambassador and the personal representative of the federal foreign minister for the Arab world, told reporters that “the need assessment of $60 billion may be a right, however, the time frame of six months is highly unlikely as we know from experience that matters of reconstruction and its implementation take time.”
Mr. Wenzel, who was also the German ambassador to Syria between 2005 and 2008, said his country as well as other friends of Syria are interested in helping with reforms, reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
The one-day Dubai investment conference has attracted some 400 Syrian and non-Syrian businessmen, Dr. Qadi said. Many Japanese and European companies with investments in Syria have contacted the Syrian opposition about continuing their projects in the country if the Assad regime is removed, Dr. Qadi added.
Write to Leila Hatoum at email@example.com