Germany has signed a 34-million-euro ($46-million) cooperation agreement with Syria, devoted largely to a water project, during a rare visit to Damascus by a Western minister.
German overseas development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul signed the accord during a three-day visit, during which she also offered €4 million to help build schools for Iraqi refugees and Syrian children.
In a statement, the minister praised Damascus for welcoming the estimated 1.2 million Iraqis fleeing violence in their country. "Each day, Syria welcomes 2,000 refugees from Iraq. This influx of refugees is a major challenge for the economy and Syrian society, as with other countries in the region."
Syrian state news agency SANA said Wieczorek-Zeul had met President Bashar Al Assad, Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri, and deputy prime minister for economic affairs Abdallah Dardari.
At a press conference with Dardari, the German minister stressed the importance of signing "an association agreement between Syria and the European Union" to press on with reforms.
An agreement between the EU and Syria, initialed in October 2004, envisaged the creation of a free trade zone by around 2010, but has since been frozen for political reasons.
SANA said Germany's input to the water project, for the countryside between Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, involved a soft loan of €19 million, a €10-million grant, and €3 million for a feasibility study.
The German statement also referred to aid to establish a bank for microcredit, which works by extending tiny loans to the poor without collateral, so that budding entrepreneurs can expand a small business.
Dardari, meanwhile, called on "German businessmen and companies to invest in Syria, and benefit from an advantageous investment climate."
Last Mod: 02 Eylül 2007, 19:37