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Saudi minister visits Raqqa for reconstruction talks

A destroyed Syrian school in Raqqa
File photo of a Syrian school in Raqqa hit by a Russian air strike in January 2016

Saudi Arabia’s Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan has visited the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, which was liberated from Daesh fighters earlier this week, to discuss plans for the reconstruction of the region, Reuters reported today.

Al-Sabhan was accompanied by US special envoy to the coalition against Daesh, Brett McGurk, and met the US-backed Syrian Defence Forces’ (SDF) newly formed Raqqa Civil Council.

According to Saudi media sources, Riyadh and Washington discussed the rebuilding of Raqqa, after months of relentless fighting destroyed most of the city’s infrastructure, leaving it uninhabitable.

Amed Sido, an adviser to the SDF alliance, said that the current priority for the reconstruction committee set up by the coalition would be to clear bodies from the debris and remove the remaining landmines planted by Daesh.

“They [Saudi Arabia] promised that they would contribute in construction in Raqqa in the future,” Sido said. “We consider it a first visit, a first step that could be the beginning of future relations.”

Read: The winners and losers in the reconstruction of Syria

Whilst Saudi Arabia is one of the 73 members of the US-led coalition in Syria, no state officials have been known to make a trip to the region.

Yesterday, a rights group revealed that some 1,873 civilians were killed and thousands were wounded during recent military operations carried out by the SDF and US-backed Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Raqqa. Approximately 270,000 people are in need of urgent humanitarian aid, according to Save the Children, with refugee camps at bursting point.

Daesh has lost swathes of territory this year to the SDF and to President Bashar Al-Assad’s Syrian Army allied with Russian forces, and has fallen back to the fertile Euphrates valley area downstream of Raqqa.

However, as the group retreats, tensions between the opposing forces of the SDF and pro-regime fighters are likely to surface in light of political negotiations over the country’s future that the United Nations hopes to discuss next month.

Read: US: Assad regime hindering victory in Raqqa

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