Reports: Emiratis to build solar power plant in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Syria on Thursday signed a contract with a group of companies from the United Arab Emirates to build a solar power plant on the outskirts of Damascus, the government said. It was the latest indication that the Arab world is ready to reconnect with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Earlier this week, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with Assad in Damascus, the first such visit since the start of the Syrian conflict ten years ago. Assad’s office said it discussed ways to develop cooperation and investment opportunities at Tuesday’s meeting.

Syrian government forces now control much of the country, thanks to Russian and Iranian allies, who have helped tip the balance of power in Assad’s favor. The civil war that began in 2011 has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced half of the country’s population and destroyed much of Syria.

There has been speculation that the UAE’s overtures may seek to distance Damascus from Tehran’s influence. However, Iranian state television reported on Thursday that Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, in a telephone conversation with his Emirati counterpart, said bilateral ties were of particular importance to the two countries.

“We are convinced that a good trend of improving relations will lead to the full development of relations between the two countries,” Iran’s top diplomat said. He also expressed hopes for trade relations between the two.

The report described Sheikh Abdullah’s visit to Syria as a positive step. He also said that the UAE’s foreign minister had invited Amirabdullahian to visit the federation and that his Iranian counterpart invited him in return to visit Tehran.

According to Syrian state media, the solar power plant will be built on the eastern outskirts of Damascus in Widyan al-Rabie. It would take two years to build and produce 300 megawatts at peak rates. The reports did not say how much it would cost, only that it would save 125,000 tonnes of fuel per year.

It was not immediately clear whether the project will be exempt from US sanctions against Syria. The United States has allowed Lebanon, struggling with a major electricity crisis, to receive Egyptian gas and electricity from Jordan via Syria.

Last month, the Syrian electricity ministry signed a $ 115 million contract with an Iranian company to rebuild a power plant in a central province in Syria.

The United Arab Emirates, which initially supported those trying to overthrow Assad, reopened its embassy in Damascus in December 2018, but relations have remained cold. Last month, UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed received a phone call from Assad in which the two discussed strengthening relations and cooperation.

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