Syria has reopened its war-torn country for tourism amid active terror threats and years of brutal warfare and an economy battered by COVID-19.
An operator of a travel company told the Post on Tuesday that the Syrian government began authorizing tourist visas again earlier this month after they were abruptly stopped after the COVID-19 outbreak last year. Came in March.
As a result, several international tour agencies have started advertising tours to Syria later this year and early 2022 – and at least two have said their first tours have already been booked.
“The first group trip for spring 2022 sold out within a week and we have added additional dates. We have also sold three private trips for small groups or individuals in the same week,” said James Wilcox, founder of UK-based Untamed Borders told the post.
Another Germany-based travel company, Rocky Road Travel, has fully booked a week-long tour in March, according to its website.
The US State Department’s highest-level warning to Americans not to travel to Syria remains in place due to ongoing threats of terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict within the country.
The advisory also warned that there is a particularly high risk of kidnapping Americans and other Westerners in Syria.
It was not immediately clear whether any Americans had registered for the upcoming visits.
The Syrian Ministry of Tourism currently only grants tourist visas through tour companies, and the government checks them heavily to ensure that no journalists or activists are trying to enter the country.
Wilcox said visa authorization for Americans typically takes longer than for UK or EU citizens. He added that American citizens are also more likely to be denied entry into Syria.
The re-emergence of tourism comes in the midst of a decade-long civil war still unresolved in Syria that was sparked by a 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The conflict has left hundreds of thousands of people stranded, forcing millions to flee Syria and denied in nearby countries and has resulted in mounting sanctions from the US and other Western countries.
While the conflict is still unresolved, Assad currently controls much of Syria due to its support from Iran and Russia.
Syria’s northwest is still run by jihadists previously affiliated with al Qaeda, while the east and northeast are controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces.
While the West is still far from Assad, some of America’s Arab allies – including Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – are now reviving economic and diplomatic ties with Syria.
Jordan’s King Abdullah spoke to Assad this month for the first time in a decade, and the border between the two countries fully reopened for trade in September.
But there has been no change in policy toward Syria under the Biden administration, which, as recently as last month, carried out a drone strike in the country targeting a senior al-Qaeda leader.
“What we have not and will not do is express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad, lift a single sanctions on Syria, or oppose the reconstruction of Syria until irreversible progress is made. To change our position towards a political solution,” a US State Department spokesman said.
Wilcox said his travel company continually assesses the risks associated with Syria and is making plans to mitigate the risks, including avoiding travel to government areas or places where high-profile people gather.
In the event that the Assad government dislikes their visits, Wilcox said, “We reduce the risk by following their protocol, we check other guests to make sure there are no journalists or activists in our groups.” We also make sure that our guests are fully informed about what they can and can’t do in Syria.”
post with wires